Christie’s hosted its inaugural Dubai auction in 2006 — the first ever art auction to be held in Dubai. The first lot offered, Shakir Hassan Al Saïd’s The Peasant, more than tripled its low estimate of $10,000 — finding a buyer at $31,200.
The price was a reflection of the region’s growing appetite for Modern and Contemporary art — as well as Al Saïd’s enormous influence in his native Iraq and internationally. A Baghdad native, Al Saïd was a founding member of the Baghdad Modern Art Group — credited with shaping an Iraqi aesthetic following the 1958 revolution. The auction went on to raise $8.5 million, establishing 53 new world auction artist records.
The success of Christie’s first art auction was followed by the introduction of the Contemporary Jewels and Watches sale, launched in January. A magnificent diamond single-stone ring by Van Cleef & Arpels became a highlight, soaring over its high estimate of $900,000 to sell for $1,192,000.
Diamonds were in focus again in November, when Christie’s second jewels sale presented the largest diamond ever offered in Dubai at auction — a cushion-cut fancy yellow diamond weighing 44.99 carats. Since the launch of the first sale 10 years ago, over 2058 pieces of jewellery and watches have sold at Christie’s Dubai.
One of Iran’s most renowned living artists, Parviz Tanavoli became the first artist to sell for over 10m AED in an auction at Christie’s Dubai, when his monumental bronze The Wall (Oh Persepolis) sold for £2,841,000 — surpassing its estimate of $600,000. The founder of Iran’s influential Saqqa-khane school, today, Tanavoli is the highest selling Middle Eastern artist at auction.
Additional records were set by Charles Hossein Zenderoudi — also a member of the Saqqa-khane school — whose work Tchaar-Bagh sold for $1,609,000, establishing the artist’s world record price at auction to date. Jewellery remained popular, with The Umm Kulthum necklace — formed of 9 rows of Indian natural pearls — selling for $1.4 million.
The number of artists offered for auction at Christie’s Dubai continued to grow, with a new section of works by Saudi Arabian artists introduced. Christie’s has continued to expand the geographies it represents; 2016’s Modern & Contemporary Art sale features artists from regions including Egypt, Morocco, Iraq, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Offered in two sales, Dr Mohammed Said Farsi collection became the highest selling private collection offered at auction in the Middle East — a title it retains today — selling 100 per cent to total $15.4 million.
A key work in the collection, Mahmoud Said’s The Whirling Dervishes sold for $2,546,500, far exceeding its high estimate of $400,000 — and establishing a new world auction record for the artist. Depicting a traditional Islamic ritual, the painting showed six identically dressed Mawlawi dervishes performing a Sema or dance — the expressive figures typical of Said’s output.
Across its sales seasons, Christie’s works to support charitable initiatives — with 2011’s Edge of Arabia sale proving particularly successful. Six works, consigned by members of the Edge of Arabia group, raised $1 million for arts education in Saudi Arabia — the Edge of Arabia initiative born from a chance encounter between British and Saudi artists with a shared desire to champion creativity in the Middle East.
Leading the auction was Message/Messenger, a work by Edge of Arabia co-founder, Saudi artist Abdulnasser Gharem. Consisting of a vast, copper dome, which hides a small dove, the work sold for $842,500 — making Gharem the most expensive living Arab artist at auction.
A first for Christie’s Dubai, in 2012, Tunisian artist Nja Mahdaoui worked with four young Emirati artists to create an art work in front of a live audience — temporarily transforming the auction room into an artist’s studio.
The work became the final lot in the charity auction of Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish Art, with proceeds benefitting the Noor Dubai Foundation for the blind. By 2012, Dubai has raised over $20 million in charitable donations.
At almost 5.5 metres in width, Fahr El-Nissa Zeid’s 1962 painting Break of the Atom and Vegetal Life became a highlight of Christie’s Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish Art sales, finding a buyer at $2,741,000.
The price set a world auction record for Zeid, establishing her as the region’s highest-selling female artist — and representing the first time a female artist had led a Dubai sale. Considered to be among her finest works, the painting displayed Zeid’s distinct form of geometric abstraction, influenced both by extensive travels through Europe and traditional Islamic and Byzantine art.
Other highlights for 2013 included the first stand-alone watch sale, presenting rare timepieces from makers including Rolex and Patek Philippe.
Soaring almost eight times above its pre-sale estimate of $70-90,000, Abdul Hadi El-Gazzar’s Construction of the Suez Canal sold for $1million, establishing a new auction record for the artist.
The exceptional result acknowledged El-Gazzar’s enduring influence on contemporary art following his death in 1966 — its subject echoing the Egyptian Contemporary Art Group’s desire to revive ‘genuine Egyptian history’. New galleries and events in Dubai re-iterated the region’s status as a centre for contemporary art, and Christie’s Modern & Contemporary sale coincided with Art Dubai for the first time since the fair’s launch.
Watches remained popular, with a rare Patek Philippe platinum and emerald-set perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch realising $341,000.
A highlight of March’s Modern & Contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish Art sale, Tahia Halim’s The Happiness of Nubia sold for $749,000- surpassing its initial estimate of $120,000-180,000.
Painted in 1965, the work emphasised the positive impact of Egypt’s Aswan High Dam on the Nubian people — depicted by Halim in white dress, accented with gold leaf, a material traditionally reserved for royals in Ancient Egyptian wall painting.
Dubai’s status as a growing centre for contemporary art persisted, with Spring auctions showing an 8 per cent increase on those in 2014 — confirming the strength of the Middle Eastern market. Total sales of art and watches saw a 58 per cent rise on results for 2014. The March Important Watches auction was the first multi-owner watch sale, selling at 100 per cent.
This March, Christie’s celebrates its 10th auction anniversary in Dubai. Since first opening, Christie’s Dubai has offered over 2,650 works of art, providing a global platform for nearly 700 Middle Eastern artists. In that time, Dubai’s cultural landscape has changed dramatically, from 5 small galleries to over 60, an internationally renowned art fair, and a wealth of cultural institutions and private museums.
Buyers at Christie’s Dubai have grown from 15 to 30 countries, and Christie’s holds a 70 per cent of market share for Middle Eastern art. Our forthcoming season promises to build on the last exciting decade, with Modern and Contemporary sales presenting works by the region’s most compelling artists , featured in the specially curated Now and Ten sale, as well as a new sale, Elements of Style, offering the best in luxury.
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