Christie's Dubai opens its Contemporary Middle Eastern Art show with masterpieces on view

The exhibition opens to the public on Friday, with pieces being auctioned from next month

A mirrored disco ball reflects light on the wall; stylised Arabic calligraphy in blue, red and green is both electric and subdued; a seated floating figure on wood looks away from her silhouette against an ornate patterned background.

These are merely a few of the highlights in the eclectic Contemporary Middle Eastern Art exhibition and auction being held by Christie’s Dubai, which is on view from Friday.

“We have really beautiful examples of artworks from the region,” Ridha Moumni, deputy chairman of Christie’s Middle East, tells The National. “At the same time, we decided to bring a variety of art representing not only the region, but the global stage.”

The exhibition, which will be on view to the public at Christie’s in the Dubai International Financial Centre until next Saturday, will include African pieces from British art patron and philanthropist Robert Devereux’s Sina Jina Collection, as well as an unveiling of English artist L S Lowry’s renowned painting Going to the Match. The works will be auctioned online from October 12 until November 3.

“The artworks reflect a bit of what we are doing in London, but also the taste of the collectors in the region,” Moumni says. “We also wanted to show how important our office in Dubai is because the region is a very important one.”

Angelus II-1, a square painting of a geometric mosaic of colour and light by renowned Palestinian artist Kamal Boullata is the first artwork that greets visitors to the space. Beyond that, to the left, is a large-scale painting full of immediacy and dynamism. Combining figuration and abstraction, Broken Land by Iranian artist Ali Banisadr is a busy, detailed work, referencing influential art movements blended with his own contemporary voice.

Facing Banisadr’s work is a photograph of a Jerusalem landscape at sunset or sunrise. Hollyland by Palestinian artist Hazem Harb is an arresting piece. Layered on top of the archival photograph of the holy city is acrylic lettering spelling out the title of the work in the recognisable font of the Hollywood sign, a universal symbol of pop and celebrity culture.

Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian’s reverse glass mosaic Mirror Ball sits across on a podium. The beautifully designed orb is an intricate mosaic of glass inspired by Islamic patterns that decorate mosques. Farmanfarmaian mastered the traditional techniques of glass-cutting to create a piece that directly referenced the disco era. It is charming, full of joy and mesmerising.

Nearby, emanating its own glow, is Saudi artist Ahmed Mater’s lightbox artwork Evolution of Man, depicting a petrol pump and the figure of a human x-ray holding a gun to its head. Whether reading the work from left to right or right to left, the illustration is clever and foreboding. Mater highlights a salient environmental concern in a powerful and triggering way.

“There's a work here for everyone,” says Suzy Sikorski, associate specialist at Christie’s Dubai.

“Whether you like photography, if you like mixed-media work, if you’re interested in international artworks such as the Lowry, which is the top highlight, all the way up to African artworks and works on paper.”

From the Arab world and Iran, there are masterpieces from Mohamed Melehi and Etel Adnan, along with more contemporary works from artists including Ali Cherri, Dana Awartani and YZ Kami.

"The price point is also versatile,” says Sikorski. “Regardless of the price, the selection of artists is top quality, whether they're up-and-coming, mid-career or established.”

In a separate space hangs Lowry’s celebrated work Going to the Match, painted in 1953. It depicts a crowd heading to a football stadium for a game. The city scene illustrates Lowry’s distinct style and expertise at conveying a particular urban landscape and stylised figures, known as “matchstick men".

Meagan Kelly Horsman, managing director of Christie’s Middle East, says: “One of the reasons we brought the Lowry is to show masterpieces from other categories to the region, while also taking the Middle Eastern masterpieces to London.

"It's a play back and forth, and the Lowry kicks off the art season here so nicely.”

Going to the Match is a leading highlight of the Modern British and Irish Art Evening Sale taking place on October 19 in London. Its unveiling in Dubai is significant in highlighting the UAE, Middle East and its artists as an important region in the international art market.

“Dubai has always been a hub for artists from the region, because it's an accessible place from a logistical perspective with links worldwide,” says Horsman. “Clients from the region or from countries that have their own arts infrastructure still want to come here. They still want to see art in Dubai and in Abu Dhabi.”

The Contemporary Middle Eastern Art show is at Christie’s Dubai in the DIFC from September 16-24. The auction house will hold its online sale of the works from October 12 to November 3. A live auction, Modern Middle Eastern Art, will be held in London on November 2.

Updated: September 16, 2022, 3:31 AM