Dubai auction expects to break records, as sales of Middle East work attract more collectors

We take a sneak peek at some of the key lots up for auction in the 17th Christie’s Middle East sale of Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish Art in Dubai tomorrow.

Parviz Tanavoli's The Last Poet of Iran is a major work expected to attract big bids. Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd
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“This will break a world record,” says Jussi Pylkkanen, the president of Christie’s Middle East, Europe and Russia, as he gestures towards a painting by the Iranian master Parviz Tanavoli. “It will be sold to a museum and, if it’s not, God bless the collector as they will be buying an incredibly major work of art.”

Tanavoli already holds an auction record for a sculpture sold at Christie's in Dubai – his sculpture Oh Persepolis sold for US$2.84 million (Dh10.43m) in 2008 – and if Pylkkanen is right, he could be making history again ­tomorrow night.

Tanavoli's The Last Poet of Iran, a work in oils on canvas, was created in 1962 during the years the artist spent in Minneapolis in the United States. It is incredibly rare, because when he returned to Iran a few years later, Tanavoli stopped painting and concentrated on his bronze sculptures, one of which is also up for ­auction.

The Last Poet of Iran is among many masterpieces on offer at Christie's Dubai sale of Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish Art. There are an impressive 264 lots of art acquired from personal collections, galleries and institutions, which have been on display in a preview exhibition in Jumeirah Emirates Towers since Sunday.

Michael Jeha, Christie’s managing director and head of sales in the Middle East, says that all eyes will be on the UAE, looking to gauge the position of the market, which is overwhelmingly positive.

“The art market is in a very strong place. There are more collectors participating in the art market than ever before and over the past eight years, Dubai has firmly established itself as a leading centre for art,” he says.

With more than 2,500 pieces sold for somewhere in the region of $250m and 400 world records broken, clients for the London-based auction house are playing an increasingly important role globally.

This year’s sale is a clear reflection of the shift. The first 10 lots, for example, are from the collection of Viviane and Robert Debbas and are all masterpieces by the late Lebanese painter Chafic Abboud. Abboud settled in Paris during the Lebanese Civil War in 1976 and the couple would visit him in his studio. This led to a collection that spans five decades of the career of an artist whose largely abstract works master the interaction of light and colour.

Although one or two pieces usually end up in the Christie’s sales in Dubai, this is the first time so many of such high quality have appeared together.

“It shows how the market for his works is very mature,” says Bibi Naz Zavieh, an associate specialist at Christie’s. “And that after all these years we have been here, collectors too are becoming much more ­established.”

The way they buy their art is also shifting, says Naz Zavieh, pointing to the wide selection that is only available through the online auction, running until October 30. The online sales, which were launched in Dubai last year, have had unexpected success, says Jeha, noting that more than half the bidders in the last online-only sale were first-time buyers.

The 63 works offered online have estimates ranging from $1,500 to $40,000, slightly less on average than those in the live sale, and are on display in Dubai until tomorrow.

A large number of these lots are from the collection of Mohammed Said Farsi, the former mayor of Jeddah, and offer a comprehensive overview of Egyptian art across the 20th ­century.

Also included are two watercolours from the UAE's very own Abdul Kadir Al Raes and The Last Look by Lateefa Bint Maktoum, the founder and director of Tashkeel studio hub and whose photography series was displayed in the UAE's National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2011.

“When we first began, most of the artworks that we were selling came from artists in various corners of the Gulf,” says Pylkkanen. “They didn’t have a high profile but today they are known on the international stage and the Middle East should be very proud of that.

“At Christie’s, our part in that has been small but we have brought these artists together – this sale is a wonderful selection of many of them.”

Christie’s sale of Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish Art takes place tomorrow night at 7pm in Jumeirah Emirates Towers. The watches sale is on Wednesday. See for more information