x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Going, going, gone at Christie’s in Dubai

Arab, Iranian and Turkish art goes under the hammer, fetching some hefty prices.

The ‘Break of the Atom and Vegetal Life”, by Turkish Jordanian princess Fahr EL Nissa Zeid, was sold for $2,741,000, a record for a painting by a female artist from the region. Wissam Keyrouz / AFP
The ‘Break of the Atom and Vegetal Life”, by Turkish Jordanian princess Fahr EL Nissa Zeid, was sold for $2,741,000, a record for a painting by a female artist from the region. Wissam Keyrouz / AFP

The art market came to Dubai last week, dressed in its finest and craving attention, at the Christie’s auction of modern and contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish art.

Those who have not attended a Christie’s auction before may already know how it works from movies and television programmes in which valuables go under the hammer. The buyers are set before the auctioneer and Christie’s staff are lined up on either side of the room fielding telephone bids.

The evening was hosted in Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel, which allowed the art up for sale to be exhibited in anterooms and on the walls of the auction room. It was not a place you wanted to stumble into with a glass of pomegranate juice in your hand. The auctioneer had one of those British accents that you otherwise find only in Merchant Ivory films. It felt like I had wandered into someone’s club and might be expelled at any moment; however, all concerned could not have been friendlier.

Both night’s auctions were well attended, with rows of seats having to be added to accommodate both active participants and passive onlookers. The auction also had an online component, which ran for two weeks.

Forty-seven “important” watches that were part of the first night’s sale raised $1,591,750.

On the first night of the auction, the late Turkish-Jordanian artist Fahr El Nissa Zeid’s 1962 abstract work Break of the Atom and Vegetal Life set a record – highest price for a painting by a female artist from the region – at $2,741,000. A word of caution here for those who fancy themselves as art buyers: the sale price in the room was $2.3 million, the other $441,000 was commission. So if you are bidding ensure that you have a bit extra for the house.

Christie’s could not have been happier.

“The Dubai auction is now a platform that naturally attracts a lot of international bidding” said Bibi Naz Zavieh, an associate specialist at Christie’s. “In the auction we had Fahr, that reached a world record price for any female artist in the region. Now we are very proud as we have the record for the highest-priced painting in the region and highest-priced sculpture in the region, the $2.8m sculpture in 2008 from Parviz Tanavoli.”

The Iranian sculptor’s Oh Persepolis set the record on April 30, 2008, shortly before the global financial crisis kicked in.

ascott@thenational.ae