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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

Christie’s 'cautiously' optimistic on Middle East art sales

Auction house registered a decline in sales at its last regional auction in March

Michael Jeha, managing director for Christie's Middle East, said he expects a pick-up in demand for and value of Middle Eastern art in 2019 .Christie's 
Michael Jeha, managing director for Christie's Middle East, said he expects a pick-up in demand for and value of Middle Eastern art in 2019 .Christie's 

UK art dealer Christie’s expects modest growth in the value of Middle East deals next year, after sales dropped in the last auction due to lower supply, its regional managing director said.

“Despite rising oil prices, there is still [economic] uncertainty in the region, so demand has become more selective,” Michael Jeha told The National. “We are expecting buyer sentiment to pick up over time and are cautiously optimistic about the next 12 to 18 months.”

The number of collectors in the Middle East is increasing, as well as the number of new buyers and online auctions – which typically attract a broader buyer base, Mr Jeha said. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, the biggest market in the Arabian Gulf, has placed a new emphasis on arts and culture as part of its drive to modernise the kingdom and diversify its economy under the Vision 2030 road map, and is expected to help drive growth in demand.

Christie’s is the dealer behind the record-breaking $450 million sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s oil painting Salvator Mundi to the Abu Dhabi Government last year. The final price was more than four times the painting’s pre-sale estimate and made it the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction. The transaction contributed a 21 per cent year-on-year increase in Christie’s 2017 global sales to $6.6bn, the dealer reported in February.

Salvator Mundi will be on display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

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Read more:

Da Vinci masterpiece helps drive 11% sales hike for Christie’s Middle East, Europe

The Big Interview: Middle East art future looks bright, Christie's executive says

Louvre Abu Dhabi: UAE has acquired Da Vinci's Salvator Mundi

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Christie’s has two sales per year in the Middle Eastern art category – Dubai in March and London in October. Its March 2018 auction generated under $3m (Dh10.9m) compared to $8m in March 2017, while the October 2017 auction netted Christie’s $6.8m.

“Buyer sentiment has tapered a little in the past 6 to 12 months and people are focusing on a narrower tranche of artists,” Mr Jeha said. The value of sales has also dropped over the period. “Large collectors and institutional investors were so active in the market in 2017 that supply has thinned this year and it’s harder to find Middle Eastern art," he said.

“The supply side is just a little bit inconsistent at the moment, but we expect prices and supply to pick up into 2019.”

Drivers for growth include improving economic sentiment in the UAE and other GCC countries on the back of higher oil prices, which have stabilised above $72 per barrel for much of the year, and a fresh wave of artistic activity in Saudi Arabia, Mr Jeha said.