Sotheby’s and Christie’s are auctioning works from renowned GCC artists this month. We look at the stories behind some of the pieces
The GCC art Sotheby's and Christie's are auctioning and what it's expected to fetch
For its autumn Middle Eastern sale to be held in London on October 23, Sotheby’s has included a number of artists from the GCC, such as Hassan Sharif, Mohammed Kazem, and the Kuwaiti-Saudi artist Munira Al-Kazi.
“We’ve reached a point in the market where the GCC artists have a very strong presence not only in the Middle East but also in the West, and we think it’s time we give stronger exposure to them,” says Ashkan Baghestani, Middle East specialist and head of sales at Sotheby’s.
One of the most intriguing lots will be a late painting by Sharif, a totemic figure in the UAE art scene who died in 2016, and had a major retrospective last year at Sharjah Art Foundation. (It will travel to the Castello di Rivoli in Turin and Kunst-Werke in Berlin next.) The painting, Olympiad N 2 (2009), in vibrant colours and thick, visible brushstrokes, shows sports competitors at the Olympics and is expected to sell for £18,000-25,000 (Dh86,129-119,624). Though Sharif was a prolific artist, particularly of assemblages made from consumer items and found materials, his works are rare at auction.
Hassan Sharif's 'Olympiad N 2' is expected to sell for Dh86,129-119,624
“He’s got a big collector base, his estate doesn’t release much, and a lot of his conceptual work from the 1980s are [already] in amazing collections, both private and institutional,” says Baghestani. “We rarely sell his paintings because there are just none available. And it’s practically impossible to get his late 1980s and 1990s conceptual works. People love them so much and they’re so well collected. It’s hard to convince people to sell.”
The Sotheby’s roster also includes a radiant pink pastel by one of Sharif’s proteges, the Dubai artist Mohammed Kazem, who scratched out the colour onto paper in what he describes as a “silent score”. The untitled work, from 2013, is expected to reach £10,000-15,000.
Mohammed Kazem's untitled painting is expected to reach Dh48,000- Dh72,000
Also at auction are two paintings by the Saudi modernist Abdulrahman Al Soliman: Worshippers leaving the Mosque (1981) and A Woman Sitting (Afternoon Session) (1980), with both estimates in the region of £40,000- 70,000. (Dh192,000-335,000)
Abdulrahman Al Soliman: 'Worshippers leaving the Mosque' is expected to sell for Dh192,000-335,000
These were included in That Feverish Leap into the Unknown, the show curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath at Art Dubai Modern, which catalogued five late 20th-century art movements in the Middle East – many of them relatively unknown. Among them was the Dar Al-Funoon Al-Saudia (the Saudi Art House), based in Riyadh, of which Al Soliman was a key part. The paintings exemplify Al Soliman’s move towards Modernism, with a Cubism that Baghestani notes is uncommon in the region.
The art scene in Saudi Arabia is the subject of increased attention, both abroad and domestically, and the quick movement of these works from Art Dubai to auction might suggest a market that is becoming more international. But Baghestani says that this impression belies the self-sufficiency of the Saudi Arabian market.
“The market in Saudi is very strong,” he says. “They have a great collector base within Saudi and it was very challenging for me to convince these collectors to sell them outside.”
Christie’s Middle Eastern sale, which takes place on October 24, likewise offers a work from the Dar Al-Funoon Al-Saudia – Landscape of 1975 by the group’s founder, Mohammed Al Saleem. It’s an atmospheric rendition of undulating dunes and palm trees, almost etched into the canvas, with an estimate similar to Al Soliman’s of £50,000-70,000.
The Christie’s sale concentrates on modern works from Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon, with major figures such as Mahmoud Said, Marwan, and Shaker Hassan Al Said represented, as well as a beautiful Ismail Shammout from 1969.
Munira Al-Kazi, 'Mother and child' is expected to fetch Dh58,000-86,000
Two stand-out lots are the iconic Last Supper by Fateh Moudarres (which has an estimate of £110,000-120,000, and the heartrending painting An Ear of Mud, An Ear of Paste (1951) by Abdel Hadi El-Gazzar. The latter shows a man feeding a chicken from the palm of his hand, and carries an estimate of £350,000-450,000.
“El-Gazzar produced very little, having died young, so there’s only around 125 oils,” explains Michael Jeha, a managing director at Christie’s. “This is one of the rarest and most impressive in terms of the composition, and in terms of the kind of attributes that collectors are after, such as pop cultural and mythical supernatural elements.”
While supply has been rumoured to be a problem over the past few years, the large size of this auction – 100 lots of high-quality works – suggests otherwise.
“Where the market is more challenging, is that it’s becoming more selective,” says Jeha. “Everyone is after a narrower group of artists. Two years ago the market was going up indiscriminately across the board. Now it’s more selective but remains very strong for top-quality works.”