The art collection of the embattled private equity firm Abraaj Group, as well as that believed to be owned by its founder Arif Naqvi, are in the process of being sold in upcoming London auctions, with some works estimated at less than one-tenth of the amount initially paid for them.
“They’re basically priced to sell,” says Nima Sagharchi, director of Middle Eastern, Islamic and South Asian Art for Bonhams, which is handling a number of the works in two of its auctions in London on October 24. “It’s a really incredible collection and it’s hard to get works of that quality to market.”
“In essence, it’s a liquidation,” he adds.
Abraaj, which managed about $14 billion (Dh51.4 billion) of assets at its peak, sponsored the Art Dubai fair from 2008 to 2018, and both the company and its chairman, Mr Naqvi, were prominent collectors of art. Abraaj went into provisional liquidation earlier this year, and the corporate collection is being offered by its administrators, Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers, in order to raise money for the company. Abraaj started to collapse this year following allegations of misuse of investors' funds.
Mr Naqvi has not responded to emails from The National seeking comment on the sale of the art works.
Bonhams is selling Mohammed Ehsai's calligraphic He Is Merciful (2007) with a low estimate of $66,000 (Dh242,385). It last sold at Christie's in Dubai in 2008 for $1 million (with the buyer paying $1.16 million after fees). Parviz Tanavoli's bronze sculpture Poet and the Bird (2006) carries an estimate of $66,000 to $130,000; it sold at Bonhams Dubai in 2008 for $480,000. Paul Guiragossian's Celebrations (1990), which was shown at the Barjeel Art Foundation's exhibition of the late Armenian-Lebanese artist earlier this year, is on the block for $52,000 to $79,000 – again around a third of what Abraaj paid for it at Christie's Dubai in 2008.
Speculation also surrounds Mr Naqvi's extensive private collection. Documents The National has viewed suggest that Mr Naqvi is also putting his work at auction at Christie's Middle Eastern Modern and Contemporary sale on October 24 in London, under the anonymity of a "distinguished private collector".
The artists include major Arab and Iranian modernists such as Fateh Moudarres, Parviz Tanavoli, Louay Kayyali, and Paul Guiragossian, some of whose works are also being offered at Bonhams. The estimates are not as low as for Abraaj’s contemporary offerings.
The Lebanese painter Chafic Abboud's beautiful soft abstraction, Les Bons Sentiments (1975), which went for $48,000 in 2009 at Christie's Dubai, is now listed by Christie's with a low estimate of $39,000. Louay Kayyali's village painting, Maaloula (1963), went for $35,000 in 2009 at Christie's Dubai and is priced now at $39,000 to $64,000.
In 2015, Naqvi published a catalogue, Colour and Line, of selections from the holdings. Ten of the works from that catalogue are listed with Christie's for the October sale. Christie's declined to confirm the identity of the collector whose work they are selling.
The drop in estimates reflects a correction from the speculation of the late 2000s, when many Middle Eastern works began moving on to the market, and when Christie’s and Bonhams began holding auctions in Dubai. Many of the lots that Bonhams and Christie's are selling were acquired in 2008, particularly in the April 2008 Christie's Dubai sale.
In the current pricing, Iranian works are particularly low, reflecting the country's poor economic climate and lack of appetite among its collectors. Jafar Rounbakhish's Telesm (1992), for example, which went for $110,000 at Christie's Dubai in 2008, now has a low estimate of $26,000.
Sagharchi of Bonhams, however, underlines that such works only constitute a part of the Abraaj Group’s substantial holdings, and that a number of the South Asian and Indian works are being given healthier estimates.
“Yes, the prices are not where they were for some artists in 2008, but what’s interesting is that compared to the results of 2008 the results are very low, but the estimates are about the same.” And many low estimates yield strong hammer prices.