While Abu Dhabi gears up for the second edition of the Abu Dhabi Art fair next week, its United Arab Emirate neighbor Dubai has given the market event the equivalent of a slam-dunk layup — a Christie's modern and contemporary art sale in the tiny kingdom netted $14 million yesterday, setting a new world record for a Middle Eastern artwork at auction when Mahmoud Said's 1929 painting "Whirling Dervishes" fetched $2.5 million. With a 94 percent sell-through rate by value and an 84 percent sell-through rate by lot, the auction more than doubled its overall presale estimate of $6.7 million.
"Whirling Dervishes" came from the collection of Mohammed Said Farsi, whose 30 works on offer themselves exceeded the entire sale's estimate, taking in $6,731,750. The final part of the Farsi collection, a group of 40 pieces by Egyptian artists, will hit the auction block at Christie's in Paris on November 9.
Many freshly-minted contemporary works had extremely strong showings. Among the top lots was "Banquet," a 2009 calligraphy-inspired triptych by Iranian artist Mohammed Ehsai that fetched $662,500, nearly double its low estimate of $350,000. Meanwhile, Afshin Pirhashemi's 2010 photorealist painting "Seduction" netted $518,500, greatly surpassing its anticipated $80-$120,000 bracket, and a 2010 panoramic painting of Istanbul by Turkish artist Devrim Erbil achieved $116,500, setting a new record for the artist's work.
Other artists also surpassed their previous sales records, such as Lebanese artist Paul Guiragossian, whose rare abstract portrait of a group of women sold for $242,500, and Syrian artist Fateh Moudarres, whose early untitled painting of a Damascus crowd sold for $374,500. Another work by a Syrian artist that saw strong bidding was Louay Kayyali's "The Ice Cream Seller," which depicts a young boy from the working class, a frequent focus of the artist's work, and was finally snapped up for $98,500.
The event propelled the year's sales at the Christie's Dubai auction room past the $29 million mark, which represents a whopping 117 percent increase over the 2009 sales figures. The buyer breakdown by lot was 60 percent from the Middle East, 28 percent from Europe, 10 percent from the Americas, and 2 percent from Asia.
In a statement, Michael Jeha, managing director of Christie's in the Middle East, pointed out that works in the sale were consigned from 15 different countries and sold to buyers from 18 different nations, which indicates a "diversity of consigning and buying that has helped to develop this market so quickly, transforming from a local to a regional and global force in just four years."
With growing art sales as well as major museum projects in the works on Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Island — including a Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and a Jean Nouvel-designed Louvre Abu Dhabi — the United Arab Emirates is fast establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with in the contemporary art world. However, it may find some heavy competition from neighboring Qatar: the Emir has confirmed longstanding rumors that he is considering a bid to buy Christie's altogether, which could bring the headquarters of the world's leading auction house to the region.