x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Photography auction looks to woo younger crowd to art collecting

Bonhams, the British auction house, will hold its first dedicated sale of photographs in Dubai next week with a collection of prints from the region and beyond.

Untitled by Bahman Jalali.
Untitled by Bahman Jalali.

It is an eclectic mix - the austerity of an 1868 platinum print of Charles Darwin rubbing shoulders with the frivolity of Mick Jagger, Peter O'Toole and Madonna; the heady days of monochrome Fifties fashion juxtaposed with thoughtful contemporary images from the Middle East.

Guy Vesey, the recently appointed Middle East director of Bonhams, says there is nothing accidental about the broad range of images assembled by the auction house for its first dedicated sale of photographs in Dubai; it sees photography as a bridgehead into the consciousness of a new generation of well-off young professionals in the UAE. "We are looking at the new collectors," he says, "who haven't thought about buying at auction before or possibly haven't even thought about buying art before."

Photographs, he says, are accessible - as are some of the estimated prices: "The fact that we've got works from $1,000 [Dh3,672] to $1,200 means that we're hopefully going to attract a newer, younger crowd."

The cheapest work is a vibrant image of an animated Mick Jagger, shot in 1982 by the British photographer Peter Anderson and estimated at between Dh3,700 and Dh4,400. There will be plenty of other pieces within reach of populist tastes and limited budgets at Dubai's Royal Mirage Hotel on April 13.

They range from the visual exuberance of Philippe Halsman, the American portrait photographer with a weakness for capturing his subjects in mid-leap - an airborne Groucho Marx and a similarly elevated Kim Novak are both estimated at between Dh5,500 and Dh7,300 - to classic images from the golden days of exploration. Two monochrome images by Herbert Ponting, the photographer on Scott of the Antarctic's final, fatal expedition, are pricier than some - Midnight in The Antarctic Summer (1910) is estimated at between Dh22,000 and Dh29,000 and The "Terra Nova" At The Ice-foot (1911) from Dh33,000 - Dh40,000 - but still within the grasp of enthusiasts.

Glamour going under the hammer includes images from the Thirties to the Sixties, by names such as Horst P Horst, Lillian Bassman and Norman Parkinson. Four examples of the late British photographer Parkinson's work for Vogue are each expected to attract bids of up to Dh26,000, but the stars of this show are to be found among the 45 prints by contemporary photographers from countries including Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

In a refreshing inversion of the price gradient usually found between western and Middle Eastern works of art at auction, the highest estimates in the show are for photography from the region. While the most expensive photograph by a western photographer is Girl in Bed (1949), by Irving Penn, with an upper estimate of Dh59,000, five pieces from the Middle East are priced at more than Dh150,000. Chief among them are Mystified (1997), the third print in a limited edition of three by Iran's Shirin Neshat, with an upper estimate of Dh170,000, and Walls of Gaza II (1994), a limited-edition set of 12 lithographs by the Palestinian Laila Shawa, expected to fetch up to Dh150,000.

Indeed, although the sale is pretty much evenly split along geographic lines, the average price for western photographs is Dh20,000, but more than double that for work from the Middle East.

Price isn't the only contrast in the collection, which also serves as an accidental commentary on the collision of cultures that is Dubai. The viewer's journey from the Iranian artist Gohar Dashti's untitled 2008 image, for example, in which a young couple sit nonchalantly drinking tea under the gun barrel of a tank, to Horst's 1937 portrait of Coco Chanel, in which the fashion designer reclines in carefully studied elegance on her studio sofa, is from the sublimely disturbing to the frivolously ridiculous.