Christie's Dubai aims to make collecting accessible with biannual auction

The Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish Arts sale features lots as low as US$3,000 and 22 artists who have never been seen at auction before.

Visitors to the exhibition take in Farhad Moshiri's The Secret Garden. Sarah Dea / The National
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The Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish Arts sale features lots as low as US$3,000 and 22 artists who have never been seen at auction before.

Turn left as you enter the Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel and you will be in the presence of genius. For one week only, the room is filled with the lots for the biannual Christie's Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish Art sale.

Work from the superstars of the regional art scene is featured, including, at the top of the lot, Farhad Moshiri's The Secret Garden, which depicts an oversized Swarovski crystal bear carrying the artist as a sleeping child.

"This piece is amazing," says Hala Khayat, the regional art specialist and head of sales at Christie's Middle East. "It is funny, mysterious and beautiful. We really want people to come and see it in person so they can appreciate the colours and the texture. It is one of our most precious works."

Khayat and a small team have spent months visiting collectors, galleries and artists in the region and beyond, gathering items for auction. The result is a well-balanced collection to be sold over two auctions. The first 29 lots go under the hammer tonight and are valued at more than US$50,000 (Dh183,500). Tomorrow, more than 90 items under $50,000 are up for grabs. Some are being sold without reserve, meaning that even if the highest bid is a dirham, they have to be sold. Twenty-two of the artists have never been sold at auction before.

"The UAE and region in general is very young, both demographically and historically," Khayat says. "We cater to that. Half the works in Part II are below $10,000 and half again are under $5,000. If there are not enough bidders, they could go for only a few hundred dollars. This is a great opportunity for young collectors to pick up works."

The public exhibition also means that even if you can't spend hundreds of thousands of dirhams on a piece of art, you can at least enjoy it for a few days before it is whisked off to a private collection.

The Secret Garden is certainly worth taking the time to see. It is a rare example of a piece that encompasses many aspects of Moshiri's oeuvre. With gaudy colours and extravagant materials intended to make a comment on the socio-political situation in Iran, Moshiri's work has earned him international acclaim. He is often compared to Jeff Koons, one the most successful contemporary artists in the world.

The auction's Modern section is dedicated to 20th-century artists. Le Chemin D'Alep by the late Lebanese painter Chafic Abboud is the second most expensive lot. "This is at the other end of the spectrum from Moshiri," Khayat says, "but equally as important."

Other notable works are Tch+Tch+Tchh by Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, a prominent Iranian who made his name in the 1970s, and Reza Derakhshani's Red Hunting No III. From Parviz Tanavoli, who holds the record for drawing the highest price for a work of art at auction in Dubai and a world auction record for any Middle Eastern artist (The Wall [Oh Persepolis] sold for $2.8 million in 2008), there is The Poet and the Key, which Khayat describes as "poetry in bronze".

In the more affordable section is an image from the up-and-coming Iranian photographer Jalal Sepehr and The Exit of Farhad and Shirin by Babak Kazemi, both being sold without reserve. The Emirati artist Khalid Al Banna is also making his auction debut with a fabric collage on Plexiglas titled Al Hadir (The Present).

These and many other pieces are targeted at an audience that Michael Jeha, the managing director of Christie's in the Middle East, calls "the third dynamic". These are "first time, younger collectors who want to buy good art but at more affordable price points. Affordable obviously depends on the individual but we are doing our best to make buying at Christie's more accessible", he says.

With a team of specialists on hand to give advice and an open invitation for the public to view the art, this mentality is clear.

Khayat adds that Christie's is committed to education, whether it is for schoolchildren or private collectors: "We write essays and biographies about most of the artists in the catalogues and we present a series of talks and tours during the week that the exhibition is up."

She says that the wider presence of Christie's in the Middle East shows a commitment to the bigger picture. "Yes, we are a business and of course we want to make sales, but we have been here for seven years now and we believe in the region and its artists."

In 2005, when Christie's arrived in Dubai, there were only three galleries in town and Art Dubai was just setting up. Now, amid international interest in regional art, Christie's is in a position to bolster the industry.

"The split is now around 50/50 between regional and international buyers," Jeha says. "The market is very different from those early days; now things are more measured and, I would argue, this maturity has ensured its stability."

So hopes are high and the future is bright. As to whether any artist will top Tanavoli's record, only the hammer will decide.

Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish Art: Parts I & II will take place tonight and tomorrow at 7pm in Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Godolphin Ballroom

A selection of items going under the hammer

The Secret Garden

Lot: 19

Estimate: US$300,000-$500,000 (Dh1.1 million-Dh1.8m)

This is lighthearted, fairy tale piece by Farhad Moshiri is also a self portrait, where the artist is depicted as a sleeping child being carried by an oversized Swarovski-crystal bear through a garden formed of blobs of acrylic paint resembling cake frosting.

Le Chemin d'Alep

Lot: 6

Estimate: $200,000-$250,000 (Dh735,000-Dh918,000)

The textured pastels of this oil painting reflect the artist Chafic Abboud's sensory interpretation of a journey he took to Aleppo in 1994. It is the second-largest canvas by the Arab Modernist to ever come to auction.

Tomb Sonata in Three Military Movements II

Lot: 137

Estimate: $50,000-$70,000 (Dh184,000-Dh257,000)

The artist Khaled Hafez uses the iconography from Egyptian tomb paintings to create a modern dialogue that questions our use of symbols and our perception of the heroic.

Al Hadir (The Present)

Lot: 163

Estimate: $4,000-$6,000 (Dh 14,700-Dh22,000)

This is Khalid Al Banna's debut at auction. His piece, a circular fabric carpet made on Plexiglas, is Pop Art that unites both the traditional and contemporary sides of his culture.

Untitled (from the Urban Witness series)

Lot: 154

Estimate: $30,000-$40,000 (Dh110,000-Dh147,000)

Represented by XVA in Dubai, the Iraqi artist Halim Al Karim plays with an uncertainty of time and space as he deals with unresolved issues in urban society.

The Exit of Farhad and Shirin

Lot: 181

Estimate: $3,000-$5,000 (Dh11,000-Dh18,365)

This photographic work by Babak Kazemi is ethereal and dreamlike. The girl who is rolling the carpet becomes the carpet itself. This work is number five from an edition of six.

Christie's gives back to community

Each Christie's sale includes a philanthropic element, with proceeds helping the community. Over the past seven years, Christie's Dubai has raised more than US$20 million (Dh73m) for charities such as the UN World Food Programme or non-profit organisations such as Edge of Arabia and the Caspian Arts Foundation.

In this sale, two pieces from the Moroccan artist Lalla Essaydi's latest series will be sold to raise funds for a monograph of her work. Bullets Revisited #3, Harem Revisited #33 and Dancer Triptych #8, #9, #10 are examples of photographic works that challenge notions of female identity and womanhood in the Islamic world. The supine women are draped in jewellery and their skin is covered in calligraphy. In the first, the heavily embellished textiles upon which the woman lies comprise bullet shells.

"The pieces are wonderful. They are almost like performance pieces that play with Orientalist notions," Khayat says.

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