Christie's looks to capitalise on Salvator Mundi auction momentum at Art Dubai

Famed-auction house's Middle East managing director and chairman, Michael Jeha, says there has been a surge in interest in art following the auction of the world's most expensive painting in November
Agents speak on their phones with their clients while bidding on at the auction of Leonardo da Vinci's 'Salvator Mundi' during the Post-War and Contemporary Art evening sale at Christie's on November 15, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)
By Shayan Shakeel
Tue 20 Mar 2018 04:57 PM

It was a historic night in November when the Salvator Mundi went on auction at Christie's in New York.

Sold for $450,312,500, the piece by Leonardo da Vinci obliterated all the previous records according to the famed auction house, including the previous record price for an Old Master painting, Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens, which sold for $76.7 million in 2002.

It also execeed the record for the most expensive work of art at auction set in the same Christie’s saleroom, when Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) achieved $179,364,992.

Now, Christie's Middle East managing director and chairman, Michael Jeha sees a surge in interest from art enthusiasts that is setting the stage for a new era of appreciation in the region.


Christies Middle East managing director and chairman, Michael Jeha.

Would it be fair to say the acquisition of Salvator Mundi has sparked more widespread interest in collectible art in the region than ever before?Ahead of the auction, the painting was exhibited in different parts of the world and art enthusiasts were joining us in high numbers to see the work in the flesh.

The sale itself was another high moment in auction history, not only due to its price but also due to the number of people who followed the sale online, clicked through our website to be part of this moment.

A Leonardo da Vinci is rarely to be offered at auction and I am sure we are all anticipating the day it will be on view at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

What we saw after the first day of viewing here in Dubai was indeed an increased interest in our art offering – people came to engage with us, to see the art on offer and to share their interest.

Would you say modern art or otherwise are more popular among buyers here?
Modern Art is very much sought after at auction, on the wider art market contemporary art makes its impact in the region from strength to strength.

Twelve years ago, when we started to hold sales in the region, a handful of galleries were operating in Dubai, today the picture has changed dramatically as Dubai counts around 80 art galleries, an annual Art Fair and more  developed activity on the secondary market.   

How much has Christie’s raised at auction in the Middle East since it first opened an outlet in the region?
In the past 10 years we sold around 3.000 works of art for over US$220 millions and achieved 400 new world auction records for artists from the region.

On top, we helped raise over US$20 million by selling art for several good courses in the region.

Can you share a few thoughts on how remarkable the pieces at auction at Art Dubai are?
We have a very unique private collection of Iraqi artists, put together by Mr. Fadhil Chalabi in the 1960’/70s which gives a nice overview of the art production from this period.

Three nice works by Parviz Tanavoli are included in the sale, still the most valuable artist of the region, when we established his record price at auction for “The Wall”  selling for over $2.8 million, here in Dubai in 2008

Mahmoud Said and Abdul Hadi El-Gazzar, the masters of Egyptian art are represented with two wonderful works, Le Mex (Alexandrie),  1918 and Married Couple from 1961.

How can more pieces from the Middle East gain prominence?
We have recently moved one of our two sale seasons to London to expose art from the region to a wider international art audience which was very well received with 85% of all lots sold to national, international and new clients.

Furthermore, Christie’s helped sponsor the first catalogue raisonné for any Middle Eastern artist and are involved with the second publication on another Egyptian artist to come out end of next year.

This season we have put a main focus on Emerati artists and have held a special lunch and lecture for increasing visibility. We also recently launched a Christie’s Education online course in Arabic.

Not to forget, Christie’s was the first international auction house to have a permanent presence in the region and we are committed to the region.      

What are your plans for the rest of 2018, and beyond?
Two points are on my list to develop: Firstly, the need for better research and reference materials about artists from the Middle East, including books and catalogues to help authenticate works from artists’ estates. This can only increase confidence in the market.

Secondly, we would like to see an increase in the quality of contemporary works included for sale at auction so that the market for these works can become more varied and supported.

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