London: Artwork from the Middle East is burgeoning, with the work of numerous local artists being sought by curators representing public and private collections.
The more adventurous buyers can find lesser known artists to make a fortune if the low price that the art commands today skyrockets as the artist’s reputation grows. But be warned - the piece that grabs their attention today need not be the one that makes them money.
Michael Jeha, auction house Christie’s head of its Middle Eastern operations, says there are opportunities. “Collectors buying for investment purposes will find a young artist whose work might be selling for $20,000, $40,000 or $50,000 in the hope that, maybe five years later, they'll be selling for half a million.”
One place to look could be the growing number of women artists in Egypt and Lebanon. Perhaps the closest the region comes to a world-class female artist is Hugette Caland, whose work has sold at enviable prices beyond dealers’ expectations. Caland, who died two years ago, is still widely sought.
A contemporary artists who now pull in the highest prices is Marwan Kassab-Bachi, a Syrian who lived in Berlin most of his life.
Parviz Tanavoli, Iran’s reputedly most valued modern artist, has been shown at London’s British Museum and in New York. He created an auction record for a Middle Eastern artist in 2008 when an ornate bronze wall called ‘Oh Persepolis’ sold for $2.84 million at a Dubai Christie’s sale. Tanavoli is displayed at the Qatar National Art Museum.
In the doldrums
That was the highest any work achieved, but the market has since languished. But dealers expect them to return to new highs when the COVID-19-struck marketplace returns to its full prowess.
Other highly sought-after Iranians are Sohrab Sepehri, a talented poet as well as painter, and Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. The latter made her name in New York and had a retrospective at the Guggenheim in 2015. Her most expensive work sold for $390,000.
Farhad Moshiri, another Iranian artist, exhibited at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in a show called ‘Go West’. Prices for his work have reached $300,000. Wael Shawky, an Egyptian, has exhibited at the Serpentine Galleries in London and has works selling for multiples of hundred thousand dollars. However, his works on paper can be bought in the low thousands of dollars.
Another highly collectible artist whose photographs and sculptors can be found at affordable prices is Moataz Nasr, an Egyptian.
The artists themselves, like the buyers of Middle Eastern artwork, are scattered globally. The reasons are not all positive for the region, says Charlie Pocock, the owner of the Meem Art Gallery in Dubai. ‘The best contemporary young Middle Eastern artists are likely to spend their time between the region and New York, London or Amsterdam. They find that production values in regional workshops are so low, they simply cannot get the craftsmanship that international buyers expect. They have to go abroad to obtain the highest technical standards.”
Prestigious Middle Eastern buyers are highly active on the global art market. They have included the late Mohamed Said Farsi, a former mayor of Jeddah.
In addition to works by world famous artists like Joan Miró, Henry Moore, Hans Arp and Alexander Calder, the Jeddah collection includes notable Egyptian art. This has been used to adorn the town’s public spaces. In a similar vein, the art collection of Mohammed Al Sharekh, in Kuwait is regarded as a national treasure.
Those who appreciate the value of art will find the Middle East marketplace to be quite hospitable.