Top 10 : Auction results in the Middle East

[09 Nov 2012]


Every fortnight Artprice presents a theme-based auction ranking. This week: the ten best auction results in the Middle East.

Since 2005/2006, the Middle Eastern art market has been much in the news. Initially focused on Dubai, it is today substantially supported by Western auction houses and above all by Christie’s. At the same time, art fairs have blossomed in the region, starting with Art Dubai in 2006, which has rapidly managed to establish international visibility. While the Middle East continues to anchor its foundations in the panorama of the international art market, and bearing in mind its occasional propensity for sharp price fluctuations, we take a look at the 10 best auction results from the region so far.

Top 10 : Auction results in the Middle East

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Parviz TANAVOLI $2500000 The wall (oh, persepolis) (1975) 04/30/2008 (Christie’s DUBAI)
2 Mahmoud SAID $2200000 The Whirling Dervishes (1929) 10/26/2010 (Christie’s DUBAI)
3 Mahmoud SAID $2100000 Les Chadoufs (1934) 04/27/2010 (Christie’s DUBAI)
4 Charles Hossein ZENDEROUDI $1400000 Tchaar-bagh (1981) 04/30/2008 (Christie’s DUBAI)
5 Robert INDIANA $1000000 Love (1966-1999) 04/30/2008 (Christie’s DUBAI)
6 Mohammad EHSAI $1000000 “He is the merciful” (2007) 04/30/2008 (Christie’s DUBAI)
7 Farhad MOSHIRI $900000 Eshgh (Love) (2007) 03/03/2008 (Bonhams DUBAI)
8 Parviz TANAVOLI $850000 Poet And Cage (2008) 04/27/2010 (Christie’s DUBAI)
9 Anish KAPOOR $810000 Sans titre (2003) 03/18/2009 (Sotheby’s DOHA)
10 Rameshwar BROOTA $800000 «Numbers» (1979) 05/24/2006 (Christie’s DUBAI)

2008 was the clearly most prosperous year as half of the region’s top ten results testify. Note that of these five 2008 results, four were hammered at Christie’s April 30 sale in Dubai. Indeed, the sale allowed Christie’s to make Middle Eastern auction history by generating the region’s best ever auction result for an artwork: $2.5m for The wall (oh, persepolis) by the Iranian artist Parviz Tanavoli.

Dubai and Doha
In fact, Christie’s Dubai has hammered eight of the region’s top ten results, confirming its dominant position in the Middle East, where it has organised two sales a year since May 2006 (April and October). Recall that following Christie’s, the British firm Bonham’s (which generated this ranking’s 7th best result) also chose to set up a branch in Dubai as of 2008. Dubai, the principal hub of the region’s art market, still hosts the market’s main players. However, the situation is developing with a rapid extension towards Qatar and its capital Doha where Sotheby’s strategically located to in 2009. The ambitious city of Doha is primarily focused on becoming one of the world’s major cultural centres. Indeed, the capital’s high-speed artistic development, led by the Emir’s daughter, the young Sheikha Al Mayassa, is primarily focusing its energy on the acquisition of internationally recognised artworks and building museums.

A contracting market
This Top also reveals the region’s substantial price contraction in 2009 and the subsequent market slowdown. Nevertheless, our 9th place was hammered in 2009 thanks to the enthusiasm created by Sotheby’s first auction sale in Doha (13 March) and the sale of a sculpture Untitled by the star of Contemporary Indian-origin art, Anish Kapoor, for the handsome sum of $810,000! Since 2008, the best year has been 2010 with record results for three works by two Modern artists from the Middle East: Mahmoud Said (1897-1964) and Parviz Tanavoli (1937).

Sales dominated by local artists
Among the nationalities represented in this ranking, the artists are mainly local with Mahmoud Said from Egypt and four artists from Iran generating five of this week’s Top 10 results: Parviz Tanavoli, Charles Hossein Di Zenderou, Mohammad Ehsai and Fara Moshiri (the youngest: b. 1963). India is also in the ranking with the modern artist Rameshwar Broota and Anish Kapoor. Finally, the United States has a small by nonetheless strong presence at 5th place with a work by Robert Indiana.


The Artists
Parviz TANAVOLI has sold 30 of his 52 works at auction in Dubai, capital of the United Arab Emirates, and six of these fetched prices above the $200,000 threshold.Considered the founding father of modern Iranian sculpture, it is no coincidence that since 2008 he’s held the best auction result ever hammered in the Middle East thanks to Christie’s sale of his The wall (oh, persepolis). Measuring 2 metres high and covered with cuneiform signs, the bronze tablet is a historical tribute to the Persian emperors. Nevertheless, some $1.6m separate this record from his second best result, proof that it was indeed a truly exceptional result, especially as in 2012 his best result was $50,000 for a sculpture entitled The Poet’s Family II at Christie’s Dubai (17 April).

Taking 2nd and 3rd places in this ranking, the Egyptian artist Mahmoud SAID, who died in 1964, had his best year at auctions in 2010 when Christie’s generated two consecutive auction records (in April and October): his oil on canvas Les Chadoufs, a traditional Egyptian life scene, fetched $2.1m on 27 April at Christie’s Dubai, at over 10 times its high estimate! And then on October 26 at the same auction venue, another canvas, The Whirling Dervishes, sold for $ 2.2m. Mahmoud Said is considered the founder of modern Egyptian painting; however, his paintings have not fetched any 7-figure dollar results since 2010. The most iconic works by the artist still find buyers for several hundreds of thousands of dollars, such as his Pêcheurs à Rashid (Rosette) that was acquired for $680,000 on 23 October 2012 at Christie’s Dubai.

In 2007 and 2008, the market for the Iranian artist Charles Hossein ZENDEROUDI recorded 16 results between $180,000 and $1.4m. Among these, an oil on canvas entitled Tchaar-bagh fetched his record at $1.4m at Christie’s Dubai on 30 April 2008. Today however, Zenderoudi’s calligraphic gestures seem to have gone off the boil. Indeed, of the 12 lots that went to auction over the last twelve months, half were bought in, including the only two offered at Christie’s Dubai. The six other lots were all offered in Europe (Paris, London and Amsterdam), and only one canvas found a buyer above the $100,000 line: on 31 May 2012, Faka + Lamlam fetched nearly $124,000 at Christie’s Paris.

American Pop Art managed to make its way into Middle Eastern Top 10 with a 2 x 2-metre version of Robert INDIANA’s Love sculpture that fetched $1m at Christie’s Dubai on 30 April 2008. Despite this good result (in addition to 5 other Indiana works sold in the region between 2007 and 2008), auctioneers generally prefer to sell his works in the West.

From the same generation as Charles Hossein Zenderouri, his compatriot Mohammad EHSAI is also present in this ranking at the 6th place after his oil on canvas He is the merciful fetched $1m at Christie’s Dubai on 30 April 2008, the same sale where Zenderouri’s Tchaar-bagh fetched $1.4m. The market for his calligraphic canvases appears to be more or less following the same path as that of Charles Hossein Zenderoudi’s with some recent results over $100,000, despite a drop in volume since 2009.

Although no longer classified as Contemporary Art on the international marketplace, the youngest in this week’s Top, the Iranian Farhad MOSHIRI, generated his best result with the brilliant Eshgh (love). The work was acquired at Bonham’s inaugural sale in Dubai on 3 May 2008 for $900,000, more than four times its high estimate. To date, this result still looks exceptional since the artist’s second best result is just $650,000 ($250,000 lower) for his works I love you until eternity, (Christie’s Dubai 30 April 2008) and 095TTV (Sotheby’s Doha, 16 December 2010). However, the artist’s price index remains dynamic and over the past twelve months his works have generated twelve results beyond $50,000!

The 9th and 10th places in this ranking go to two Indian artists: the star of the Contemporary art market, Anish KAPOOR, and the Modern artist Rameshwar BROOTA. While the $810,000 hammered for Anish Kapoor’s mirror-sculpture Untitled is only his 26th best result, the $800,000 for Rameshwar Broota’s Numbers canvas represents the artist’s best-ever result. Numbers is one of two works by Rameshwar Broota to be auctioned in the Middle East. Given that the aesthetic and political issues touched upon by the Rameshwar Broota seem far removed from the preferences of Middle Eastern buyers, the result may look surprising. However, it should be remembered that it was hammered at Christie’s first sales in Dubai in 2006 and that in 2006 Dubai, a safe and liberal enclave, was an attractive destination for wealthy Indians. While both artists have recorded a majority of results in the West, Anish Kapoor’s price index is looking buoyant, while that of Rameshwar Broota has dropped and none of his works have fetched beyond $200,000 since 2008.

The fact that there are no results from 2011 and 2012 in this ranking confirms the deceleration of the Middle Eastern market. In fact, since 2010 there hasn’t been a single result in the region above $800,000. The Middle Eastern marketplace is therefore a long way behind the market’s principal hubs (China, the United States, the United Kingdom) with their regular 7 and 8-figure dollar results.