Tehran played host to two diverse art events at the end of May. Intriguing printed banners of works by some of the world’s greatest painters were visible on various highways and main streets of the city, with the eyes of passersby caught with surprise as they beheld great works of art by Van Gogh, Matisse, Modigliani and Pollock alongside Persian miniatures and works by contemporary Iranian artists.
This “street art show” was complemented by the opening of the fifth Tehran Art Auction. A growing success since 2012, the fifth auction sale was a good indicator of the ever increasing interest and demand for Classic and Modern Iranian art. Held at the Parsian Azadi Hotel in the luxurious northern part of Tehran, the evening featured 80 lots of which 79 were sold, with the total hammer price standing at $7.4 million—a shift from the 2015 sales of 126 artworks which totaled $7 million.
Boasting a glamorous setting, among the 850 attendees from around the world were established and emerging art collectors, private Iranian banks, famous cinema artists and national football players. The caliber of sponsors was also higher than in previous years, including such names such as Porsche, Samsung, Le Couturier and many others—yet another sign of the rising interest in Iranian art at an international level. Among the works sold, only four works were purchased through telephone bids.
Mahmoud Farshchian. Sublimation. 2004. Acrylic on cardboard. 100 x 75 cm. Sold for $360,000 at Tehran Auction’s Classic and Modern Iranian Art Sale in Tehran, 2016
The event stopped momentarily when the Minister of Culture, Ali Jannati, entered the hall to show the government’s support for the auction. However, this was contrary to statements in conservative newspapers that showed opposite views after the event, labeling it as the “works of the bourgeoisie.”
The excitement began when a famous cinema actress, Elnaz Shakerdoost bought the first lot by Nasser Ovissi for $30,000. As predicted, the two late Sohrab Sepehris’ broke the artist's previous year's sales record. One of the artist’s “Untitled” works sold for $870,000 by a private telephone bidder, while his second work was bought by a young collector for $450,000. Manochehr Yektai, who is an internationally known Iranian artist who is fighting with Alzheimer’s preventing him from producing more artworks, surpassed his high estimate and sold two paintings for an overall $630,000. Surprisingly, two works by Charles Hossein Zenderoudi sold for lower than expected prices reaching a combined total of $480,000 – a great contrast to his 2008 Christie’s Dubai sales where one his works Tchaar-bagh sold for $1,609,000.
Sohrab Sepehri. Untitled. 1970. Oil on canvas. 120 x 180 cm. Sold for $870,000 at Tehran Auction’s Classic and Modern Iranian Art Sale in Tehran, 2016
Among the 80 lots, 15 were Old Masters with the total combined sale of these works amounting to $764,000. Mahmoud Farshchian’s Persian miniature reached an unexpected price of $360,000, which was followed by excitement and applause in the hall. Mansour Ghandriz's “Untitled” work from the Saqqakhaneh School was sold for $250,000 up a low estimate of $87,000. This was followed by the sale of a work by the late Jafar Petgar entitled An Old Man with a Pipe that went for $64,000 an increase from the low estimate of $11,500. Two works by Parviz Tanavoli, the internationally renowned sculptor, sold for $200,000.
The long years of solitude for the sale of artwork inside Iran is now weathering away. While artwork by Iranian artists has been selling in international auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s over the past decade, we are now witnessing a flourishing demand in the market for Iranian art. This is complemented by a new generation of art lovers and art investors who are looking at artworks not just as fancy items, but rather as valuable investments purchases.
All images courtesy of Tehran Art Auction.