Christie’s Middle East chairman Michael Jeha is leaving the auction house at the end of March. This departure, confirmed by Jeha in an interview with The Art Newspaper, was made as a personal decision on behalf of his family, he says. He will be relocating from Dubai back to London, where he grew up.
The news comes after a rocky few years in Christie’s Middle East department. Once the dominant house in the region, it reduced its Middle East auction calendar in 2020, axing the contemporary spring sale that was held in Dubai, and keeping only the autumn sale in London. (Both auctions had been held in Dubai until 2017, when Christie’s moved the autumn offering to London.) In 2020 longtime specialist Hala Khayat left to become the regional director at Art Dubai, and Caroline Louca, the managing director of Christie’s Middle East in Dubai, left at the end of last year.
Jeha has been with Christie’s for 23 years and has been an architect of Christie’s Middle East operation. He moved there in 2006 to become managing director of the department, as Dubai became the centre of the explosion of art market interest in the region. Christie’s weathered the dip after the 2008 crash, but the auction market never fully rebounded.
Several people active in the scene have noted that in recent years, Christie’s was being inactive in terms of seeking works and collectors in the region, with several poor auction results from 2020 onwards.
“There are structural weakness that have placed limitations on the progression” of the Modern and contemporary Middle East category, says Jeha. “The supply of top-quality Modern is becoming thinner and thinner across the board… And the contemporary side of the market hasn’t progressed the way anyone hoped it would, again due to structural limitations.”
But he says that many misunderstand the redefinition of Christie’s business in Dubai. Its offices in the DIFC complex have shifted to becoming a showroom for selling exhibitions, and it has grown to include luxury auctions, which, particularly watches, have been doing well.
“Middle East Modern and contemporary art remains important, but they are just part of a bigger operation now,” he says.
Jeha, who started as an intern out of college in Christie’s Impressionism department, says he is now looking forward to some time off.