GOING, GOING, GONE!
Sotheby's auction held last month put the focus on Middle Eastern contemporary artists.
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).