They Came Dubai Art : Christie’s

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When Christie’s held its first art auction in the Middle East, they chose Dubai as its location – and the world came out to bid

Photography Provided by CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2006

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 “This auction was the first phase in our plan to develop a broader reach within the Middle East and exceed our expectations in terms of the prices achieved and the incredibly enthusiastic response from our new clients in the region.”

On its way to becoming one of the world’s most popular cities in every way, Dubai made history in May when Christie’s chose it as the first Middle Eastern location for an international modern and contemporary art auction. Buyers from over 17 countries gathered at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers during the three-day auction to purchase more than 120 works of art from the Arab world, Iran, India, Pakistan and the West, which in total fetched a whopping $8,489,000 US (that’s AED 31,173,925).

Jussi Pylkkänen, president of Christie’s Europe and Middle East, and the auctioneer of the sale, sums it up this way: “Taking the sale tonight was a fantastic experience, and something I shall remember both professionally and personally forever.” Pylkkänen goes on to point out that the success of the auction reflects the overall strength of the contemporary art market and the “thirst” in the Middle East to compete for major contemporary artists working in the region. “I was particularly delighted to see Europeans, Asians and Americans competing fiercely by phone for the best works in the sale. Tonight the Middle Eastern artists achieved international credibility while the Indian contemporary market consolidated its position among the most vibrant of them all. There is a great future for these contemporary artists in the global market. We certainly made the right strategic decision in bringing Christie’s to Dubai, and we have been richly rewarded by the response of our new friends and clients in the region.”

Of the international mix of buyers, the breakdown went like this: 53 percent were from the Middle East; 23 percent were European; 11 percent came from the Americas; 11 percent came from Asia and 2 percent came from elsewhere. Of the Middle Eastern buyers, 80 percent hailed from the UAE. This isn’t so surprising given the recent trends: While worldwide media attention has traditionally focused primarily on other regions of the world, the Arab world and Iran have also been vibrant centers in the production of modern and contemporary art. Often for the first time, pioneering artists from all over the region were included in the sale – 53 new artist records at auction were established at the auction, where both new and established collectors competed fiercely. Notable sales included works by Egyptian artist Ahmed Moustafa, whose Orbits of Praise sold for $240,000 (AED 881,304) and whose Where Two Oceans Meet commanded $284,800 (AED 1,045,814), establishing a new world record price at auction for the artist.

Expect to hear more in the future about Christie’s establishing a presence around this region. As Christie’s International CEO Edward Dolman puts it, “This auction was the first phase in our plan to develop a broader reach within the Middle East and exceed our expectations in terms of the prices achieved and the incredibly enthusiastic response from our new clients in the region.” Given the results of their initial efforts, it looks like that plan is already working – and can only become more successful from here.

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