Just when you thought this November couldn’t get any busier for art in the UAE – the start of the month sees the opening of a major Hassan Sharif retrospective at the Sharjah Art Foundation, the 10th edition of Abu Dhabi Art, the launch event for a fledgling architecture biennale in Dubai and the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi – Sotheby’s have joined the fray with the announcement of their inaugural Boundless: Dubai sale on November 13.
Timed to coincide with the crowds and enthusiasm associated with the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s launch, Boundless: Dubai will be held at Sotheby’s DIFC-based office and gallery, which opened in March, and will echo the format set by the auctioneer’s Boundless: Hong Kong sales, which have been running since 2012.
As Sotheby’s Ashkan Baghestani explains, this has involved bringing together a selection of lots that have the potential to appeal to the tastes and budgets of first-time collectors, heavyweight works aimed primarily at the institutional market, and a little bit of everything in between.
“We have our established regional and international collector base and institutions, but then there are younger collectors who don’t necessarily feel comfortable at auction, so we wanted a boutique sale where we could show the wide range of artists and work that’s on offer,” says the auctioneer’s Arab and Iranian specialist, who is also Boundless: Dubai’s head of sale.
“The main theme around the sale was to create a dialogue between Middle Eastern art and artists and their international counterparts, and to show how much the Middle East has influenced western art throughout the centuries.”
The result is a collection of works that includes 20th-century and contemporary art, design, photography, prints, books and manuscripts, as well as jewellery, orientalist works and art from the Islamic world.
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The full range of works from Boundless: Dubai will be exhibited from November 6, but a brief public preview of the sale – and of lots from other forthcoming London and Geneva-based auctions – are currently on display at Sotheby’s gallery in DIFC. Open until Thursday, the show represents an opportunity to see works that may not appear in public again for some time, such as three works by Egyptian-born painter Antoine Malliarakis, also known as Mayo.
The son of a Greek engineer, who worked on the Suez Canal, and a French mother, Malliarakis was born in Port Said, grew up in Alexandria and briefly studied architecture in Paris before becoming an artist, befriending Man Ray, Tristan Tzara and Francis Picabia, and adopting the name Mayo in the process.
The painter’s Coup de Baton (1937) featured prominently in the recent Centre Pompidou and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía exhibition, Art et Liberté: Rupture, War and Surrealism in Egypt (1938-1948) but Boundless: Dubai will feature an even earlier work, Ismailia (Le Marché Arabe), from 1934, and the later Illusioniste B (1965). Mayo’s La Vie Augmente Toujours (1970) will be up for auction in London as part of Sotheby’s 20th-century and Middle East sale on October 23, as will Bahman Mohasses’s equestrian painting Untitled (1965), which is also on display at Sotheby’s’ gallery.
Born in Rasht, in 1931, Mohasses was one of Iran’s most notable modern artists, but finally left his home at the time of the revolution and moved to Italy, where he died in Rome in 2010. Referencing the bronze equestrian statues of Italian painter and sculptor Marino Marini, who was inspired by the relationship between man and horse as exemplified by the knights of medieval Europe, Mohasses’ Untitled also sits within a classical traditional, as well as a modern one that includes the work of Francis Bacon.
The sale of Mohasses’ Requiem Omnibus set a new world record for the artist in April when it sold at Sotheby’s 20th Century/Middle East sale for £584,750 (Dh2.8 million), but Untitled is predicted to fetch somewhere between £80,000 to £100,000, placing it towards the upper end of a sale with entry-level works that start from £800, in a bid to attract younger and first-time collectors. As Baghestani admits, Sotheby’s see the mix of lots, as well as their prices, as being key to attracting new clients into the market or diversifying the collecting habits of existing buyers.
“Themed sales create a nice environment where you can mix things,” he says. “Whether you are a collector, an interior designer, an institution – you can find bits and pieces for everyone, and you can put a wider range of price points. I think people increasingly need a bit of direction. I think these mixed sales offer that and that brings in a more interesting and global crowd.
“If somebody just buys design normally, in a sale like this they look at the rest of the catalogue and starts looking at other fields or artists that they have never encountered.”
Reflecting that mix, Boundless: Dubai will feature a typically curvaceous prototype Aqua Table designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, alongside a collection of 33 letters written by author Khalil Gibran to his friend and patron Marie El-Khoury; a glamorous art deco portrait of an Indian man wearing a turban by Tamara de Lempicka, and a golden Abbasid lustreware bowl that was made in Iraq at some point in the 10th century.
If the mix serves to conjure a sense of a beautifully stocked cabinet of curiosity, it also helps to makes the works appear less museum-like and more attainable, regardless of the cost.
In comparison to major paintings such as Ali Banisadr’s Meanwhile (2012), which recalls the complexity and colour palette of Persian miniatures, the real thing, such as a jewel-like 17th century Safavid miniature depicting the Queen of Sheba, not only feels domestically scaled but also financially achievable.
The diversity of Boundless: Dubai is accentuated by the presence of lots from other auctions, such as Sotheby’s Geneva’s sale of magnificent and noble jewels (November 15); the Library of a European Gentleman (November 2); and Howard Hodgkin: Portrait of the Artist, which takes place in London on October 24. Not only does this provide visitors to Sotheby’s gallery with the opportunity to see paintings such as Bhupen Khakhar’s De-Luxe Tailors (1972), which featured in the Indian artist’s Tate Modern retrospective last year, but also affords visitors a glimpse of the world’s largest-known fancy pink diamond, the Raj Pink, which weighs in at 37.30 carats, and a beautifully textured oil painting, Untitled (1972) from Sohrab Sepehri’s Tree Trunk series.
Whether you’re monied or not, a visit to the preview represents a feast for the senses, and those wishing to learn more can join Baghestani on October 11at 6.30pm, when hewill lead a public tour of the exhibition.
This will be followed by a discussion between Lebanese artist Nadim Karam and Roxane Zand, Sotheby’s deputy chairman for the Middle East. The talk, Conversations with Cities, will investigate the impact of monumental municipal art on cities and the people who inhabit them.
A preview of Boundless: Dubai is on at Sotheby’s Dubai until Thursday. For details, visit www.sothebys.com/dubai