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Ayyam Gallery in Dubai: An auction for everyone

An event for art lovers to pick up some affordable works

  • Mehdi Nabavi, untitled, 2013. Estimate $10,000-$15,000Image Credit: Supplied
  • Farzad Kohan Lost Promises, 2012. Estimate $5,000-$8,000Image Credit: Supplied
  • Nadim Karam Elephant, 2013Image Credit: Supplied
Gulf News

Most international auction houses have lower-priced “day” sales or “Part II” sales. But Ayyam Gallery, Dubai, has come up with “The Young Collectors Auction”, specifically designed to encourage new collectors to enter the nascent art market in this region. The event was launched in 2009, and the 15th sale will be held on April 30 at Ayyam Gallery, Al Quoz. The catalogue features a diverse selection of Middle Eastern contemporary art by established and emerging artists at affordable prices.

The event also includes a charity auction to raise funds for the UN World Food Programme (WFP). This part of the event is organised in collaboration with The Farjam Foundation, Contemporary Practices Art Journal and the WFP, and features an auction of artworks donated by well-known artists such as Farideh Lashai, Parviz Kalantari and Marwa Adel to support the fight against world hunger.

We spoke to Hesham Samawi, managing partner of Ayyam Gallery, about the concept of the Young Collectors Auction and its evolution. Excerpts:

What was the idea behind the Young Collectors Auction?

When we began in 2009, international auction houses were already well established in the top end of the market in this region, but we felt that there was a space in the market for a lower-priced auction. As young collectors ourselves, my partner Khalid Samawi and I know that going to auctions of expensive art is quite intimidating for new collectors and that buying the first piece is the most difficult part of starting a collection. So we decided to use our experience as gallerists and collectors to create a platform that offers new collectors easy access to good art at affordable prices, while also providing an opportunity for promising young artists from the region to enter the market. The main idea was to make the auction a fun experience by keeping the atmosphere casual and laid-back.

How has the event evolved since then?

We began by offering works only by artists working with Ayyam gallery. But we now travel throughout the region to look for talented new artists, and also have artworks consigned from other galleries. Being an auctioneer was a new experience for me, but I later did an auctioneers’ course at Sotheby’s, which has helped us to make the event more professional. We have worked hard to create catalogues that provide accurate and detailed information about the artworks and artists, and to develop systems that make it easier for everybody to participate in the auctions. Our collectors have also matured along with us and we are happy to see that they are now more confident in bidding for what they like and in spending a little more.

How do you select the artworks for these auctions?

We focus on Middle Eastern and Iranian art in the price range of $2,000 (Dh7,340) to 15,000 (Dh55,050). We try to include a variety of artworks such as smaller paintings and sculptures, photography, limited-edition prints, works on paper, and video art. We look at hundreds of undiscovered artists throughout the region, to find fresh, young and edgy pieces. We also ask well-known artists on Ayyam Gallery’s roster to create smaller pieces specially for the auctions. We also have artworks from other galleries and private collectors.

What are the highlights of the next auction?

This is our biggest and most diverse auction so far with 86 lots on offer. And we now have a dedicated, interactive website where people can view the catalogue, register for a paddle, and place absentee bids. We have a good mix of pieces in various sizes and media by artists from different countries, including more than 30 artists appearing on auction for the first time. Interesting works by emerging artists include Mehdi Nabavi’s mirror-coated sculptures and photographic works by Lara Zankoul, who is on CNN’s list of top ten artists to watch. Well-known artists such as Samia Halaby, Mutea Murad and Abdul Nasser Gharem, who usually do large works, have especially created smaller works for the auction; and collectors also have the rare opportunity to buy smaller works by sculptor Nadim Karam, calligrapher Nja Mahdaoui and painter Fateh Moudarres.

Is it not risky to invest in young, unknown artists?

Nobody can predict the appreciation in the value of an artwork, but as gallerists we do have expertise in finding and developing young talent. Being in our catalogue provides good exposure to these artists and may lead to them being nurtured by Ayyam itself or by other galleries. A good example is Iranian artist Ramin Shirdel, who made his first-ever sale at our auction last year, and has been featured in a Christie’s auction this year at a much higher estimated price. Our auctions are for new collectors who want to build a collection as well as for established collectors who are looking to find the next big artist.

What are your tips for young collectors?

Trust your own instincts and your eye, and only buy what you love and can afford. Go for the preview and talk to the art specialists. If you like something, bid for it and don’t be intimated by other bidders. Remember that if there are no other bidders for a piece you like, you could get it at the reserve price, so put in a silent bid even if you cannot come to the auction. Buy art to enjoy it rather than to speculate and flip purchases quickly.

Jyoti Kalsi is an arts enthusiast based in Dubai.


Event: Young Collectors Auction & Charity Evening

Date: April 30, 7pm.

Venue: Ayyam Gallery, Al Quoz

Preview: Until 29, 10am to 6pm.

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