Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 November 2019

19 artworks once owned by former Abraaj head Arif Naqvi to be auctioned off at Christie's London

Works to be auctioned at Christie's Middle East sale in London estimated to sell for far lower than previous amounts

Arif Naqvi. Reuters
Arif Naqvi. Reuters

The sell-off of works formerly in Arif Naqvi’s collection continues, as tomorrow Christie’s auctions 19 works once owned by the former Abraaj head.

Naqvi was the head of Dubai’s now defunct Abraaj Group, which collapsed last year due to financial mismanagement and allegations of fraud. Naqvi, who is Pakistani by origin, is currently living in Knightsbridge, London, where he awaits a ruling about US extradition. He is under £15 million (Dh71.3 billion) bail, the largest ever bail in the UK’s history.

The works, at Christie's Middle Eastern sale in London, make up around a third of the value of the projected £4.3 million sale. They range from an allegorical painting by the late Syrian modernist Fateh Moudarres to contemporary pieces such as Kader Attia’s reappropriation of Gericault’s famous Raft of the Medusa, in ATT/EXII Harragas (2009).

The artwork reflects a more febrile time in the Dubai commercial art world. Many were purchased at the auctions there that began in 2007, and their estimates are far lower than what they fetched back then. The Tunisian calligraphic artist Nja Mahdaoui’s intricate and colourful Graphemes (2007) went for $278,500 at Christie’s Dubai in October 2010; it’s now estimated for half that, at £100,000–£150,000 ($130,000–190,000). Farhad Moshiri’s oil painting Love, of a vessel inscribed with the word for “love” in Farsi, fetched $422,500 at that same sale; now it’s on the block for £200,000–£300,000 ($250,000–$370,000). The Egyptian artist Yousef Nabil’s photograph Ehsan Crying, Cairo (1997), which realised $64,900 at a Christie’s Dubai sale in April 2012, is now estimated at £20,000–£30,000 ($25,000–$37,000).

Estimated at £200,000–£300,000, Love by Farhad Moshiri, which was once in the collection of Arif Naqvi, failed to sell at Christie's on Wednesday night. Abu Nadha for The National
Love by Farhad Moshiri (Iranian, b. 1963). Abu Nadha for The National

The drop in prices for the contemporary calligraphic works is to be expected, as the demand for those has fallen across the board. The market for earlier works of Arab modernism, by contrast, has remained steadier, and the knowledge and appreciation of these pieces has also grown enormously, with more public exhibition of these works and increasing scholarship. In this sale, a former Naqvi-owned painting of a reclining nude by the Egyptian master Mahmoud Said has been given an estimate of £150,000–250,000 (L’Endormie [The Dreamer, 1933]) – but it is questionable whether that has been priced too optimistically. The sale, which is 113 works in total, also includes a second – and equally fine – reclining nude by Said, Nude on Blue Cushion (1926), which carries a lower estimate of £70,000–£100,000.

The works have been identified as originally from Naqvi’s collection based on their appearance in a 2015 catalogue that Naqvi published, Colour and Line. Christie’s underline that the works have now been sold to another person, who is the consignor for this sale. This means, they say, both that Naqvi himself will not profit from the auction, and that the second person, who has not been named, has full right to sell them. Because of the ongoing enquiry into Naqvi after the collapse of Abraaj, there had been some speculation Naqvi’s assets were frozen in the UK, though this is not the case.

In general, the works associated with Naqvi are in two parts: the substantial Abraaj corporate collection, some of which was sold at Bonhams in October 2018 on behalf of the group’s liquidator, and Naqvi’s own, equally substantial private holdings, some of which Christie’s sold earlier in October 2018. These are from Naqvi's own collection.

Abraaj had its headquarters in Dubai. Naqvi has been sentenced to three years in the UAE.

Updated: October 23, 2019 03:34 PM

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