Led by head of Middle Eastern department Bibi Zavieh, since its inaugural sale in February the online auction and price database has devoted itself to promoting art from Arab countries. At just 16 lots, the current sale is once again small by auction standards but includes a selection of paintings, prints, and photographs by eminent artists from the region, including Erol Akyavas, Nasrollah Afjei, Youssef Nabil, Lalla Essaydi, Mohammad Ehsai, and Pouya Afshar, among others. The current sale features a majority of artists who now live and work in the West – a fact that ponders the East/West duality of artists working in the globalised world.
Past sales have resulted in several regional and international records for Middle Eastern art. In Artnet’s inaugural Contemporary Middle Eastern art sale in February 2017, it broke a record for Iraqi-US-based artist Hayv Kahraman when her work Transparent Body realised $72,000 against a pre-sale estimate of $60,000-80,000. Held in April, in Artnet’s second sale dedicated to photography from the region and entitled ‘Reflections of the Middle East and North Africa’, Ahmed Mater’s Evolution of Man realised $14,400 against a pre-sale estimate of $5,000-7,000, with over 30 bids on the work. In its Modern Middle East art sale, several online records were broken for Middle Eastern art when Faramarz Pilaram’s Untitled realised $30,000 against a pre-sale estimate of $25,000-30,000, and Sohrab Sepehri’s Untitled realised $28,800 against a pre-sale estimate of $15,000-20,000. And on 5 May of this year, Youssef Nabil’s Rania, Cairo sold for $54,000 USD, marking a world record for the artist at auction.
Ahmed Mater's Evolution of Man
Part of the mission of Artnet’s online sales has been to increase the international awareness of art from the region, a topic that has been further discussed at Artnet offices through recent visits of specialists in the field, including Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi and Leila Taghinia –Milani Heller. “It has been very encouraging to discover a real appetite for works by artists from Arab countries, Iran, Turkey and North Africa, with interest coming from around the world, from collectors based in the Americas to those based in Europe and Asia,” states Zavieh. “With the current political situation and the Middle East being constantly on the radar for the past decades, it is fascinating to see how artists reflect on the social, economic, cultural and political situation of their homelands.”
Among the highlights in the upcoming sale is Youssef Nabil’s Higher & Higher, Self-Portrait, Vienna (2005), with an estimate of $18-24,000. One of two works by the artist in the sale (the other is Sweet Temptation (1993) estimated at $4-6,000), the photograph marks a departure from the artist’s usual passive approach to self-portraiture. Here we see Nabil from behind walking up a flight of stairs – offering the viewer a glimpse into his life and travels. Another top lot is Iranian artist Pouya Afshar’s Tehran (2014), a highly detailed work made with pen and ink on paper and estimated at $9-12,000. Part of the artist’s series Romance With the Crow I Killed, this intricate work marries the personal with socio-political perspectives of Tehran into a story-like timeline. Imbued in the work are powerful symbols of both Iranian cultural heritage and Western political influences – a dichotomy reflective of the artist’s own experience: He studied and now works in the US as an assistant professor but visited Iran regularly from 2001 to 2014.
“Most artists in the sale now live and work in the West, and their works reflect on the dualities of their identity,” adds Zavieh. “This sale, alike our previous auctions held since February, does really create bridges between the two worlds on many levels.”
Bidding continues until Monday, 10 July, 2017. To view the sale, visit artnet.com/auctions/middle-eastern-art-0717/