Flash News: Middle Eastern Art – Art Düsseldorf


White Glove sale for Middle Eastern Art

On 24 October, Bonhams of London offered the Abraaj collection for sale. A Dubai-based private equity firm and former sponsor of the Dubai Art Fair, Abraaj was known for its collection of Middle Eastern and Asian art. With its founder and CEO Arif Naqvi currently under investigation for embezzlement, the Abraaj group has been forced to part with its collection. On the same day, Christie’s also auctioned certain works from Mr. Naqvi’s personal collection in London.

The two hundred works in Bonhams’ Abraaj Collection sale (spread over three successive sessions) all found takers, generating a total of $5.9 million: a ‘white glove’ sale in auction parlance. Some artists did particularly well in the sale including the Lebanese artists Paul GUIRAGOSSIAN, with a record result outside the Arab Emirates for his canvas Celebrations which fetched $225,000. Versus its estimate of $50,000 – 77,000 it was a ‘surprising’ result. However most of the works were valued at less than one third of their original prices. “The main purpose of the estimates was to sell: after all… it was a liquidation sale” said Nima Sagharchi, Director of Bonhams’ Middle Eastern, Islamic and South Asian Art Department. The sale didn’t produce any new absolute records, but most of the lots exceeded their estimates. The sale’s top price was generated by an untitled work by the Indian artist Manjit BAWA (1941-2008) estimated $232,000 – $322,000. A large painting with a bright yellow background depicting two women and several dogs, the work fetched over $614,000 (Untitled), an honorable performance and the artist’s 5th best auction result. His absolute record was generated by a canvas with similar dimensions and style, which sold for $1.2 million last March (Asta Guru sale in Mumbai on 27 March 2018).

The Abraaj collection was compiled in the 2000s, at the height of the firm’s financial strength and at the top of the market for Middle Eastern artists. As a result many of the works were acquired at much higher prices than their current values. The sale’s ‘star’ work, He is Merciful by Mohammad EHSAI (Iran, born in 1939), a large and highly graphic canvas depicting Arabic calligraphy in shades of green on a black background fetched $413,000 versus an acquisition price nearly three times higher 10 years ago ($1.16 million at Christie’s Dubai on 30 April 2008).

The differential seems to confirm what observers have long suspected regarding the Arab art market: a bubble inflated by ‘artificial’ prices, which has now deflated in a context of generalised instability caused by half a century of war and tension in the Middle East. Nevertheless… the Abu Dhabi Art Fair opens its doors in a few days (14-17 November). The seminars accompanying the fair will focus exactly on this problem, i.e. the place of Contemporary Arab art in the global art market, and how the global art market has impacted relationships between artists, museums and private foundations.

Art Düsseldorf: 2nd edition

The second edition of Art Düsseldorf is scheduled for November 16-18 with 91 galleries from 19 countries. Bigger this year, the fair has moved to a former industrial warehouse on the banks of the Rhine. Even before its launch in 2017, Art Dusseldorf was clearly a ‘strategic’ choice for a large number of art professionals with 270 galleries applying for access and only 80 being accepted, including the prestigious Marlborough and David Zwirner galleries. In fact, in just one year the fair has become one of the globe’s leading art fairs, attracting lots of top-notch galleries and 43,000 visitors (last year). This second edition aims to consolidate Dusseldorf as a veritable art market nerve-centre and to attract new collectors with a careful and high-quality selection of galleries. More than half the galleries are from Germany and the Benelux countries in accordance with the fair’s declared ambition: to showcase the best Modern and Contemporary art supported by galleries primarily from Germany, the neighboring Benelux countries and the Rhineland regions. Uncompromising in terms of quality, this ambitious fair will host booths from Berlin’s Bastian Gallery (which regularly presents works by Dan FLAVIN, Joseph BEUYS, Anselm KIEFER…) and Dusseldorf’s Max Mayer Gallery that attends all the major fairs, including Art Basel. Other major galleries from around the world will also be present this year including the Marlborough (again) and the Templon Gallery from Paris.

Originally organized in Cologne (Art.Fair Cologne), the fair underwent major changes last year – changing its location and its name – after the MCH group acquired a 25.1% stake in the shares of International GmbH art.fair. MCH organizes a large number of fairs including the famous Art Basel. However, further changes are expected in the coming months as MCH Group has recently announced its intention to sell its stakes in several fairs, including Art Düsseldorf…