On the 10th anniversary of Christie’s Dubai, Jussi Pylkkänen, president of the global auction house, looks back with satisfaction – and reveals the secret of its success.
“I clearly remember the moment just before our first auction in Dubai,” he says. “We all knew it was a risk. At the time, there were only a handful of galleries in Dubai, none of the great museums had been envisaged, we were even unsure if our new clients would embrace the auction concept and the bidding process. But what we did have was great art, and that is always the secret wherever we do business.”
A decade and 20 sales later, the figures speak for themselves. The figures of the Dubai branch of the auction house have totalled more than US$200 million (Dh735m) for art and $100m (Dh367m) in jewels and watches. They have also broken more than 400 world-record prices for artists at auction – including Iranian sculptor Parviz Tanavoli, whose The Wall (Oh, Persepolis) sold for $2,841,000 (Dh10.4m) in 2009, and is the highest sum ever paid for artwork by an artist from the Middle East.
The market, too, changed dramatically since the auction house first stepped on Dubai’s sands. Art and the buyers may have always been here, but confidence and communication was missing.
Michael Jeha, managing director of Christie’s Dubai, says that the team have made it a priority to consolidate all parts of the market to bolster it to the position it is at now. “Before we started, it was very localised,” he says. “It has been a key part of our strategy over the last 10 years to develop relationships with key consignors to, if you like, secure the pipeline. We have spent a long time building up relationships with families, collectors and artists. We helped to regionalise the market and then, beyond that, internationalise it. Now we attract institutions and collectors from around the world – in fact, 30 per cent of our buyers come from outside the region. That is a strong total.”
However, the going hasn’t always been smooth. Although it started off well, the financial crash of 2008 took a toll. At the time, the average total per sale was about $4m (Dh14.7m); compared with the current average of $10m to $15m (up to Dh55m). But the team did not change their course and, in time, things picked up again with new channels opening up, such as the online sale and this year, for the first time, there will be a luxury sale of handbags.
“It is fair to say our leadership position is unparalleled,” says Jeha. “In the Middle East we have 70 per cent of the market share and we are particularly proud of that.”
However, Jeha is quick to point out that Christie’s success is not only about numbers, but also in attracting a new client base and spreading its influence across the world.
“It is not just about what we sell,” he says. “We try to increase appetite and engage a new audience, and for that we look beyond what we are selling in Dubai, and at the role that the region plays in how people participate with Christie’s globally.”
Now, for every dollar a client spends in Dubai, they go on to spend $15 at other Christie’s auctions around the world.
To mark 10 years in the UAE, Christie’s Dubai will host the usual sales of modern and contemporary art, watches and jewellery plus the lifestyle sale of handbags as well as a special 40 lot sale – Now and Ten.
“We wanted to put together an auction that would be a celebration of the last 10 years,” says Jeha. “We feel we have achieved that with this Now And Ten auction, and it would not have been possible without all the key relationships that have been built up over the last 10 years and without the trust that has been afforded us by so many.”
• Upcoming auctions at Christie’s Dubai: Important Watches, Tuesday, 7pm: Modern & Contemporary Art, Wednesday, 7pm; Christie’s Elements of Style Auction, Thursday, 7pm. Visit www.christies.com