Christie’s to hold first Modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art sale in London

Auction house cuts Dubai October series as it looks to “internationalise” the sector's market

by Anna Brady  |  31 July 2017
Christie’s to hold first Modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art sale in London
Hanem (1951) by the Egyptian artist Mahmoud Saïd, an early consignment to Christie’s first auction of Modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art in London on 25 October. Est. £120,000-180,000 (Image courtesy of Christie’s)
Christie’s will hold its first Modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art sale in London this October following the decision to move the sale from Dubai. The evening sale on 25 October will take place during what is traditionally known as Islamic Art Week, now rebranded by Christie’s as Middle Eastern Art Week, joining Sotheby’s existing Modern and Contemporary Middle Eastern art sales that week. The equivalent Bonhams auction follows in November. 

The decision to move the sale to London is part of a strategy to “internationalise the market further for Middle Eastern art”, says Michael Jeha, Christie’s managing director and deputy chairman, Middle East. “We now sell around 30% of our Dubai sales to international buyers,” he says. However, most bid remotely. 

The London evening sale will contain around 60 lots, a tighter edit than the March Dubai sale of 100-150 lots. The move to London has, Jeha says, been well received by consignors: “In 40 lots, we’ve already hit our target.” 

The March sales will continue in Dubai, with three offerings of Modern art, watches and luxury goods. Coinciding with Art Dubai, the March sale attracts more international collectors, although the spring Modern Art sale does not significantly outperform autumn on paper. The October 2016 auction totalled $6.5m compared to $8.1m in March 2017 (both figures include fees). 

Jeha says “moving to London will help engage a wider audience, particularly on the contemporary side. Stylistically, Modern art tends to appeal more to regional collectors.” The move is, Jeha says, “part of Christie’s global strategy”. 

But Dubai’s economy is faltering and Christie’s decision to switch from biannual to annual sales is somewhat of a retreat—the October Important Watches sale that accompanied the art sale will also now not take place. Instead, “the Dubai watch team will be responsible for an additional online auction, mirroring the Dubai live auction offering”, according to a Christie’s statement.

Competitors have also taken a cautious approach to their involvement in the region. Although Sotheby’s opened a new gallery space and office in March this year in Dubai’s financial district, they will not hold auctions on the ground. Both Bonhams and Sotheby’s hold views of highlights of their Modern and Contemporary Middle Eastern art sales in Dubai, but the sales remain firmly in London. 

Despite the reduction in sales from biannual to annual, Christie’s Dubai office, which opened in 2006, has not faced cuts, Jeha says. “We haven’t had to make any cuts personnel wise. We’re about 10 people full-time in the office. We’re a lean machine, probably a good thing.” 

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