One minute it’s yours, one minute it’s not; welcome to art buying for adrenaline junkies. Nyree Barrett has the info on auction season
Young Collectors’ Auction
This home-grown sale is a good starting point for any collector and is representative of the local scene at the moment. The ‘young’ in the title refers to your age as a collector: you can be a fresh art buyer at the age of 90. Average prices have risen since the inaugural auction last year, when pieces sold for anything from Dhs2,000 to Dhs22,000; you’ll now need at least Dhs7,000 to play with. However, prices are still cheap compared with other auctions, and the starting estimates are often 30 per cent lower than you’d find at a gallery.
Key works are up for grabs: as an example of the investment potential at this auction, works by Syrian artist Khaled Takreti were sold for Dhs3,500 this time last year, but this year they sit at a lowest estimate of Dhs9,000. The pieces will be on display on April 28 and 29 if you want a preview. This isn’t a stuffy auction, so you can turn up at 6pm on April 30 and register for a paddle (you can also make absentee, silent and phone bids). Expect a fun vibe with nibbles and drinks. Ayyam Gallery, Friday April 30, 6pm, See www.ayyamgallery.com for details.
Hisham Samawi, auctioneer and Managing Partner at Ayyam Gallery
Why is contemporary Arab and Iranian art a good investment? When you look at where it’s valued today, it’s still quite underpriced by international standards, but the quality is just as good. You’ve seen an explosion in the Chinese and Indian art markets, but I think the Middle Eastern art market is still poised to climb. Many people bought Chinese art five to 10 years ago for US$5,000 (Dhs18,000) and now it’s worth millions – that could also happen in the Middle Eastern market.
What should we look out for when investing? Ultimately, you’ve got to make sure it’s something you like, something you believe in – if you like it, there’s a good chance someone else will further down the road. Also, do your research and see who’s backing the artist and what gallery they’re working with. Future investment potential is linked to exposure – is the gallery taking them around the world, and are they publishing books on them? Even talented artists get lost without the right backing.
‘Le Foulard Rouge’ by Khaled Takreti Estimate: Dhs9,000-14,600 The Syrian artist’s portraits of lofty women are both controlled and bold, their campy quality echoing David Hockney.
‘Master My Universe (Pump You Up)’ by Amir H Fallah Estimate: Dhs36,700-55,000 The Iranian artist’s teetering forts are glorious but tenuous, as though they’re on the verge of toppling over. The art world loves them.
‘Gray and Pink’ by Samia Halaby Estimate: Dhs44,000-55,000 She’s seen by many as the most important living Palestinian artist, so this is the priciest piece of the lot. Her value is unlikely to wane.
‘Route 6 (Round About We Go)’ by Arwa Abouon Estimate: Dhs7,000-11,000 The Libyan/Canadian artist’s digital print reinvents the movement around the Kaaba. The work manages to achieve a sense of the current and of the anthropological.
Middle Eastern, Iranian Post-War and Contemporary Art, Christie’s
This auction is heralded as ‘the most extensive selection of museum-quality modern Middle Eastern art ever offered at auction’ and, with 124 pristine lots on offer, that’s not far off. The works will set you back between Dhs26,000 and Dhs1.46 million so not many people will be buying, but it’s a fascinating process and anyone’s welcome, paddle or no paddle. Ranging from 20th century modern works to contemporary, fresh (and often more affordable) pieces, there’s something here for everyone to ogle. Best of all, Christie’s has obtained 25 pieces of Egyptian art from prominent Saudi collector Dr Mohammed Said Farsi (the former Lord Mayor of Jeddah). Tip: if you want to bid on the night, get there at least three hours before the auction to register for your paddle. Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Tuesday April 27, 7pm, See www.christies.com for info.
‘Poet and Cage’ by Parviz Tanavoli Estimate: Dhs1.1 million-Dhs1.5 million Recalling Islamic architecture and covered in indecipherable poetic inscriptions, this bronze work will most likely be the priciest on the day. We’ll be sitting on our hands during this one, but it is a bargain considering one of Tanavoli’s works was sold at a Christie’s auction in 2008 for a hefty Dhs10 million.
‘In Exile’ by Steve Sabella Estimate: Dhs26,000-Dhs37,000 Christie’s will have some key contemporary lots, and this work by Palestinian photographer Sabella is one of the most affordable items.
William Lawrie, Head of Sale for Modern and Contemporary Arab and Iranian Art, Christie’s
Why is Arab and Iranian art a good investment? The auction market has become more selective, and there are certain things that people are actively seeking. We’ve found that the value of modern, 20th century Arab art has changed little since 2008.
What should we look out for when investing? I know it sounds a bit glib, but you should look for quality. It’s better to go for the best works you can reasonably afford. Buy fewer, better works rather than more modest works – the better works are those that appreciate in value. Also, buy things that you like. I know it sounds obvious, but you’re not just buying an investment, you’re buying something that you’ll live with: if it appreciates, great, but if not, at least you own something you love.
Orientalist Pictures and Works of Art, Bonhams
Orientalist art refers to any depiction of the Near and Middle East by Western artists – a movement that still exists today, but peaked in the late 19th century. This auction will feature paintings, watercolours, sculpture, glassworks, rugs and arms. Strong Orientalist works are rare in today’s market, and this auction will showcase the most valuable collection of the movement’s paintings ever offered at auction in the Middle East. Bonhams auctioneer Matthew Girling (who also happens to be the house’s Europe and Middle East CEO) is an entertaining character who’s mastered the art of the auction: anyone’s welcome to head down for the show. One&Only Royal Mirage, Thursday May 13, 7pm, See the works before auction at the Beach Rotana Hotel, Abu Dhabi on May 10 from 5pm-7pm, and at The One&Only Royal Mirage in Dubai from 2pm-9pm on May 12 and 10am-7pm on May 13. See www.bonhams.com for info.
‘Mamelouk ruins, Cairo’ by Ludovico Marchetti Estimate: Dhs22,000-Dhs29,000 The Italian artist is a 19th century master whose works can be seen in museums, so this is quite a steal. The invention of photography in the 1850s brought about the fashion to paint photoreastically, and this 1876 painting is a fine example of a historic snapshot on canvas.
‘Before a Mosque’ by Edwin Lord Weeks Estimate: Dhs1.5 million-Dhs2.2 million The American painter is one of the most important Orientalists, so much so that he gained fame within his lifetime and could afford to travel and paint on site. This huge canvas was painted on his first trip to India.
The novice’s guide
All auction sales differ slightly, but the premise is the same. There will be a viewing a few days before the auction. Interested in buying? Either attend on the night and register for a paddle, fill in an absentee bid form or arrange to make a phone bid. Lots will be brought out one by one – hold up your paddle to bid. Once sold, lots are prepared for the buyer; some auctions may ask for proof of ability to pay. The process differs at each auction, so check with the house if you’re unsure.