GO­ING, GO­ING, GONE!

Sotheby's auc­tion held last month put the fo­cus on Mid­dle East­ern con­tem­po­rary artists.

Qatar Today - - CULTURE > DOHA DIARY - BY SINDHU NAIR

As I stood be­fore Anish Kapoor's shim­mer­ing master­piece and gazed at my re­flec­tion that mul­ti­plied into in­fi­nite tiny images, I had no clue that this piece of steel mag­nif­i­cence would be the top lot of the Sotheby's Con­tem­po­rary Art Doha auc­tion held on Oc­to­ber 13. The sale this year achieved a strong to­tal of $8,006,625, solidly be­tween pre-sale ex­pec­ta­tions of $6.2 mil­lion and $8.5 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to Sotheby's. The sale was 84.6% sold by lot and records were es­tab­lished for 13 artists. Anish Kapoor's un­ti­tled stain­less steel work of 2009 was sold after ex­tended bid­ding for $1,595,000 (est. $700,000-900,000*) – the high­est price achieved for a work by the artist in the Mid­dle East. Kapoor is very popular, says Aileen Agopian, Sotheby's Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent, In­ter­na­tional Con­tem­po­rary Art Spe­cial­ist, who was ex­cited to bring the best of con­tem­po­rary artists from the re­gion to the Doha auc­tion. A day be­fore the much-awaited auc­tion by Sotheby's, she took me­dia around the pre-sale ex­hi­bi­tion of the Con­tem­po­rary Art Doha auc­tion in its en­tirety and as we stood look­ing at our own re­flec­tion in the pol­ished mir­ror-like steel work of Kapoor's, she says, “Anish has had ma­jor mu­seum achieve­ment all over the world and peo­ple from all cul­tures love his work. This sculp­ture mas­ter­fully cap­tured ev­ery el­e­ment one de­sires in Kapoor's

work, the per­fect mar­riage of biomor­phic and geo­met­ric forms, as well as visual and phys­i­cal spa­tial ex­pe­ri­ence. The lu­mi­nous, pix­e­lated sur­face of this sculp­ture cre­ated an as­ton­ish­ing sen­sa­tion of move­ment, rem­i­nis­cent of rip­pling wa­ter and see­ing one's own re­flec­tion end­lessly, which per­fectly be­guiled and en­ticed ev­ery art lover.”

“This un­veil­ing ( be­fore the auc­tion) also rep­re­sents the first ex­hi­bi­tion in the Mid­dle East of works by a num­ber of the fea­tured artists which, com­bined with the sale it­self in Doha, will make a dis­tinct con­tri­bu­tion to the in­ter­na­tional arts scene in Qatar and beyond,” she says, “We have strate­gi­cally sourced works by the most com­pelling and cut­ting-edge in­ter­na­tional artists whose works, along­side their Mid­dle East­ern con­tem­po­raries, will chal­lenge art lovers and col­lec­tors and ex­pose them to new art forms.”

While there are other in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned con­tem­po­rary artists' work on sale, like Damien Hirst's Tran­quil­lity which was sold for $845,000 (est. $1,000,0001,500,000), Agopian had her eyes and hopes set on The Chase, a highly fluid and dra­matic piece of art­work by in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed and highly sought-after artist Ali Banisadr. He didn't dis­ap­point too, with 16 bid­ders from 10 dif­fer­ent coun­tries bid­ding for his work, driv­ing prices to record lev­els. “We ag­gres­sively went after The Chase as we knew im­me­di­ately it would break the world record and as we ex­pected there was an almost fren­zied bid­ding war in the auc­tion from as many as ten dif­fer­ent coun­tries. The Chase was hotly con­tested by 16 bid­ders, even­tu­ally sell­ing for $557,000 (est. $180,000-250,000),” she tells us after the sale.

Draw­ing on East­ern and Western artis­tic tra­di­tions, Ira­nian artist Banisadr's work re­calls both the startling com­plex­ity of Per­sian minia­tures and the wide-rang­ing land­scapes of the Flem­ish Old Masters. Banisadr's spell-bind­ing and in­tox­i­cat­ing paint­ing, The Chase, en­gulfs the viewer in a way that cre­ates an il­lu­mi­nated master­piece and the mar­ket re­sponded to the paint­ing's dy­namic power. Banisadr has un­doubt­edly be­come one of the most com­pelling painters of his gen­er­a­tion in his mas­ter­ful in­ter­ac­tion of ab­strac­tion and

fig­u­ra­tion to cre­ate elab­o­rate and mes­meris­ing paint­ings that speak to col­lec­tors around the world.

“He has ma­jor re­sponses from in­ter­na­tional mu­se­ums and is a favourite with col­lec­tors. He had a sell-out show in New York. He is an artist who works very metic­u­lously, very slowly and me­thod­i­cally. This paint­ing de­picts a his­toric bat­tle­field. The whole feel is of a dy­namic sym­phony of dif­fer­ent lay­ers and con­tem­po­rary ab­strac­tions and fig­u­ra­tions. What I love is that peo­ple from around the world love his work and look out for his work,” Agopian says.

There was a paint­ing by Yousef Ahmad which was to go un­der the ham­mer too but no ex­pla­na­tion from Sotheby's was given re­gard­ing its sale, though a day be­fore the sales, Agopian did com­ment that “Ahmed was one of the most popular Qatari artists whose work is so dif­fi­cult to find be­cause any­one who owns a work of his would not want to part with it”.

Another beau­ti­ful work, a soul-stir­ring video by Shirin Ne­shat, was also cre­at­ing in­ter­est as it was the first video art­work ever to be auc­tioned. Ne­shat's Pas­sage fetched $269,000, a bit be­low the top es­ti­mated price of $200,000-300,000 which might be an in­di­ca­tor that video art­work did not stir the imag­i­na­tion of many in the re­gion. The art­work was also ac­quired by a Euro­pean col­lec­tor.

Agopian had high ex­pec­ta­tions from this evoca­tive film that ex­plores themes of fem­i­nism and Is­lamic cul­ture and this work of Ne­shat is con­sid­ered the most sig­nif­i­cant film in­stal­la­tion of the artist's ca­reer.

“Never be­fore has any video art­work sold at auc­tion in the Mid­dle East, and this is the first time any­where in the world that Ne­shat's work has ap­peared at an auc­tion. This work has been ex­ten­sively ex­hib­ited and edi­tions are housed in the per­ma­nent col­lec­tion of the Solomon R. Guggen­heim Mu­seum and the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art, New York and the San Francisco Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art,” she says.

Doha, a venue for auc­tions?

But why is Doha the cho­sen coun­try to hold auc­tions? The an­swer is in the suc­cess of auc­tions for Sotheby's, says Agopian. “We look at the re­ac­tion and the his­tory of sale from pre­vi­ous auc­tions,” she says. “In the April 2013 auc­tion, Sotheby's had bid­ders from 21 coun­tries, we set nine auc­tion records, and we even set the record for the high­est price ever achieved for an Arab artist.”

Doha is looked at as the hub of art in the Mid­dle East. “The mar­ket in Doha has grown sig­nif­i­cantly for Sotheby's since open­ing an of­fice back in 2008 and our sales here have evolved ac­cord­ing to de­mand,” she says.

What's so re­ward­ing about this is that the par­tic­i­pa­tion in the sales in Doha has been in­creas­ingly in­ter­na­tional.

“The auc­tion at­tracts in­ter­est from all over the world, from Kuwait, from Shar­jah and also from Latin Amer­ica. It is a great cul­tural di­a­logue that hap­pens right here and it is an ex­pe­ri­ence to watch the com­ing to­gether of bid­ders from all over the world to this tiny state, ei­ther phys­i­cally or re­motely, that re­flects art ma­tu­rity,” she says.

“It's hugely im­por­tant to us that we are at­tract­ing bid­ders from both the re­gion and in­ter­na­tion­ally so that the di­a­logue be­tween the ME and in­ter­na­tional art that is pre­sented in the sale is played out in the au­di­ence and par­tic­i­pants are drawn to the sale - this year we had par­tic­i­pa­tion from as many as 22 dif­fer­ent coun­tries.”

Does this suc­cess in­di­cate a grow­ing shift in in­ter­est to con­tem­po­rary art?

Agopian says: “Con­tem­po­rary Art is most def­i­nitely in high de­mand, as our sale re­sults in ev­ery sin­gle one of our sell­ing lo­ca­tions demon­strate. That's not to say that col­lec­tors have shifted from buy­ing mod­ern works to con­tem­po­rary – it's more that there are more col­lec­tors now than ever be­fore so the de­mand is ever in­creas­ing – and of course there aren't the same con­straints on sup­ply of art by liv­ing artists.”

Un­der the Ham­mer Ira­nian artist Ali Banisadr's “The Chase” in the

process of be­ing auc­tioned.

AILEEN AGOPIAN, Sotheby's Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent, In­ter­na­tional Con­tem­po­rary Art Spe­cial­ist poses be­fore her favourite art­work by Banisadr

Shirin Ne­shat's Pas­sage is be­ing screened at Katara Art cen­tre for the pre-sale ex­hi­bi­tion of the Con­tem­po­rary Art Doha auc­tion which also fea­tured Anish Kapoor's hot seller (bot­tom).

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