x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Christie's expects auction sales to double

Christie's is expecting between US$8 million (Dh29.3m) and $12m in sales at its auction in Dubai Monday.

Christie's is expecting between US$8 million (Dh29.3m) and $12m in sales at its auction in Dubai, nearly twice the amount it expected from its last sale in April for about the same number of lots. April's sale, which ended up bringing in $4.7m, turned out to be a positive surprise for the relatively young Middle East art market and sparked optimism for this month's sale, said Michael Jeha, the managing director of Christie's Dubai.

"I think in April people were very nervous," Mr Jeha said. "I remember it was difficult to get people to consign because obviously it was the height of the financial crisis and people weren't sure it was the right time to sell. "The sale performed very well. It was over 80 per cent sold, so that really helped to restore confidence. After that, collectors were more comfortable." Their comfort has helped bring a more valuable batch of art to the block this time. Mr Jeha emphasised the higher expectations for this sale did not necessarily mean prices had increased, only that the pieces available were worth more.

"In the whole global contemporary art market, we've seen softening in pricing," he said. "However, we've seen that the market has become very liquid and active, so for top-quality works that are fresh to the market, prices are really strong." The Art Price annual report for 2008-2009, released last week, described the softening of prices in contemporary art, the hardest hit, as a "nosedive after seven consecutive years of price inflation".

Global contemporary art prices rose 85 per cent between January 2002 and January last year, then dropped 27.1 per cent over the rest of last year and 4.4 per cent in the first half of this year. But Mr Jeha disagrees with a recent assessment by one of his competitors that Middle East art prices have dropped by 50 per cent since last year, or that the region has been hit harder than others. "The global art market has softened quite a bit but I wouldn't say that the Middle East has been hit harder," he said. "I think the Middle East and Dubai have seen an increase in selectivity. Volumes have declined. I think everyone is selling fewer works but what has been sold is selling well."

This month, Bonhams kicked off the autumn art auction season in Dubai with a sale of modern and contemporary Middle East and South Asian art that sold more than 70 per cent of its lots for $1.8m. Mr Jeha said he would be "reasonably satisfied" to see the same percentage of sales at tomorrow's auction. "People have to be realistic," he said. "Seventy per cent is a pretty healthy selling total, particularly in this environment."

Some regional art is faring better than others. Iranian art, which saw its values soar at the height of last year's art market bubble, has come back down to earth, Mr Jeha said. "But the modern Arab category has held up quite firmly," he said. @Email:khagey@thenational.ae