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Sun 28 Jan 2007 12:00 AM

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Christie's: $20m of sales in the frame

The famous auction house predicts that it will sell artworks worth $20m in two ME sales this week.


Christie’s auction house is staging two art sales this week with conservative pre-sale estimates predicting a massive US$20m in sales.


The contemporary art auction is expected to make between US$7m and US$9m while jewellery and watches could scoop between US$9m to US$12m, the UK-based company said.


“Anything within this range will be good for us,” Michael Jeha, managing director, Christie’s Dubai, told
Arabian Business.


Christie's first auction last year saw sales figures double pre-sale estimates. The auction last May was the first-ever art auction in the region, featuring modern and contemporary art from the Middle East, Iran and India.


The event generated sales worth US$8.5m — a figure that doubled the house’s expectations.


This year, the auctioneer will put on sale a collection of contemporary art works as well as jewellery and watches at two separate auctions on January 31 and Thursday February 1.


“We always had a strong Middle Eastern client base that was investing in and collecting art.


Last year we figured that the time was right to stage an auction here, and the feedback was phenomenal, so we planned a larger event this year,” said Jeha.


Last year’s event saw more than 90% of pieces sold. “A comparable figure in other parts of the world would between 60% and 70%,” he added.


A total of 53% of last year’s buyers were UAE residents. “The majority of those were Arab expats, followed by Indians and UAE nationals,” he said.


“Emiratis are showing an increasing interest in art as an investment as they are getting more educated and exposed to the scene,” he added.


Last year’s auction saw an increasing interest from European buyers in Middle Eastern art buying 20% of the artwork. “Many see the art pieces we offer as a great investment opportunity,” Jeha explained. “As a general observation one can say that art collectors buy patriotically. Iraqis buy Iraqi art, Lebanese buy art from Lebanon, and so forth. That’s why we also included a large Indian section, since there are many Indians living in the UAE.


According to Jeha the Arab world and Iran have always been vibrant centres for the production of modern art, particularly during the second half of the 20th century. “For contemporary art there is still much untapped potential, but the artists produce good quality. The Indian contemporary market is slightly more advanced,” he said.


Contemporary art is a trend with international collectors these days. “This style is increasingly gaining popularity. Globally the demand for this technique is on the rise — a trend that has been going on for the last three years or so,” he said.


The jewellery and watches event features big names such as Bulgari, Cartier, Fred and Graff, but also presents modern exclusive jewellery that is not sold in stores, he stated.


“We have this rare piece of earrings by a famous contemporary artist called Jar. The start off price is US$500,000 to US$700,000,” he said. “At this auction we also expect many European collectors to buy,” he added. Everybody worldwide can bid at a Christie’s auction over the phone, even if the person is not present at the event, Jeha clarified.


Christie’s opened in Dubai in April 2005 and is the first international auction house to have a permanent base in the region. Besides the auctions, the house also aims to support and enlarge the local art scene, with a number of new galleries and public exhibitions opening on an almost weekly basis.


“Christie’s definitely helps to promote arts in the Middle East through our activities. We want to stage more auctions in Dubai, and we are planning exhibitions in Kuwait and Qatar,” he said.


The house employs a panel of art specialists that rate the suitability of the artwork for the Middle East in order to avoid conflict with local values.


“You won’t see female nudity in our catalogues here,” Jeha said.


Jussi Pylkkänen, president of Christie’s Europe and the Middle East, as well as the auctioneer for last year’s sale said: “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 clients in the region.”


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