Christie's paints rosy picture for art in Dubai

The Life: Michael Jeha, managing director for Christie's in Dubai, explains why the emirate is helping artists become global household names.

Michael Jeha, the managing director for Christie's in Dubai, says artworks are being bought as investments.
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Michael Jeha is the managing director for Christie's in Dubai, which saw the fastest growth last year of all the auction house's international locations. He explains why Dubai is helping artists become global household names.

Why did Dubai perform so strongly last year?

It is clear that there were a combination of factors - the quality of art was certainly high, but also I think it is fair to say the art market has benefited from global market uncertainty. There has been a flight to art.

So people are buying art as an investment?

Yes, contemporary art is being used more for investment purposes, with Middle Eastern contemporary art experiencing strong growth. It is also likely to continue as an alternative asset class, particularly among young collectors.

Are investors driving the growth in Dubai then?

No, I think it's a key point to make that is it still a relatively small part of sales, perhaps less than 10 per cent.

So who does most of the buying?

Mainly private individuals in Dubai, but the number of international buyers is increasing. On average, 30 per cent of auctions in Dubai are being sold to clients globally. I spend a lot of my time focusing on private buyers and sellers. Most people still buy for aesthetic reasons. They want to live with the art, hang it on their wall, that's the primary reason for buying.

Is the market in Dubai now fully developed?

It benefits from having such a wide-ranging mix of clients - local buyers, Iranians, Europeans. We are seeing more buyers from Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Saudi and Lebanon. The final step for Dubai is actually to see increasing corporate participation.

Why would companies buy high-end art?

They could buy for a number of reasons. For example to show off to prospective clients or because it is good for their own workforce.

How do artists get their work into Christie's to be auctioned?

In general, most artists are represented by a gallery. It is the role of the gallery to find young emerging talent and get their pieces exhibited. It is then the role of auction houses like us to turn them into household names.

But this takes time.

Yes, often, but the art market is thriving in the Middle East. Galleries are opening at such a rapid rate. Dubai has gone from about five to 50 in a few years. I'm sure there are more in London and New York, but the pace of growth here has been tremendous. We take established artists' works and then give them a global platform. We want to internationalise the market for Middle Eastern contemporary art.