Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 15 November 2019

Christie's "optimistic" about its Middle East art auction in October

Auction house expects about £3.5 million in sales during the event

Hala Khayat, director and head of sales at Christie's, is optimistic about Middle East art sales during the upcoming auction in London during October. Courtesy Christie's
Hala Khayat, director and head of sales at Christie's, is optimistic about Middle East art sales during the upcoming auction in London during October. Courtesy Christie's

UK art dealer Christie's is "optimistic" about its upcoming Middle East art auction next month in London, a collection valued at about £3-4 million (Dh13.3m-Dh17.8m), and expects £3.5 million in sales during the bi-annual event.

The auction house expects a surge in the value of Middle East art deals next year as collectors seek top-range works and as institutions in the West acquire more regional artworks, Hala Khayat, Christie’s director and head of sales in the Middle East, told The National.

"Western museums and foundations today are now acquiring Middle Eastern art, there’s so many acquisitions happening at the international level and so many shows being curated in New York and Washington DC, taking this art from the region abroad," Ms Khayat said in an interview on Tuesday. "Even our move with our sale abroad is testimony to this bridging."

Christie’s is the dealer behind the record-breaking $450 million sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s oil painting Salvator Mundi set to be showcased at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The final price was more than four times the painting’s presale 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 $6.6 billion, the dealer reported.

Ms Khayat said art collectors are becoming "extremely selective," especially in high-end works, making this a buyers' market currently.

"There are so many deals to be picked up today because so many collectors in the Middle East — in the Levant and Egypt and North Africa — the factory where these works are mainly from, are now in crisis, so sadly a lot of collectors from these nations are selling and there’s a lot of good deals to be made," she said.

To further spur growth of the Middle East art market, the region must attract a wider range of businesses to support the industry, ranging from art insurance companies, art handlers, art restorers, art framers and art education institutions, Ms Khayat said.

Despite economic headwinds as the global economy slows down, collectors "are looking for top-of-the-range work, there will still be funds for that, they will make an exception and buy because these works are not replaceable," she said.

Reaching out to younger generations is also essential to stimulate future demand and appreciation for artwork in the region because education about art takes time.

"What we want to engage more with is new owners of art, new young people who realise, through education and museum visits in the region, the importance of art," Ms Khayat said. "You have a new generation that is now exposed to works in Louvre Abu Dhabi. If they’re in their early 20s, they will start buying their first art work in a few years."

Investing in art is still not the top priority for the Arab world's wealthy, who generally opt for safe haven investments such as gold or property.

"Middle Easterners like sure commodities — they prefer real estate, gold, land, property in Europe, luxuries like shoes and bags, and then art is the last item on that spectrum," Ms Khayat said.

Christie’s Middle Eastern Modern and Contemporary Art annual auction will take place in London on October 23, with more than 90 Middle Eastern artworks from around the world, during the capital's Islamic Art Week.

Christie’s has two sales per year in the Middle Eastern art category — Dubai in March and London in October.

Last year, Christie’s Middle Eastern Modern and Contemporary Art auction made more than Dh17.5m in total sales, while 2017 brought in more than Dh23m.

Such events showcasing the Middle East's rich art are essential to bridge cultural divides and portray the region's humanistic side and creative offerings — beyond geopolitical tensions or conflict.

"It's to show another facet, we're not only about ISIS, we're not only a region in crisis, we have creative people and amazing art," Ms Khayat said.

Updated: September 4, 2019 11:10 AM

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