“Nothing really stood out,” said one London-based collector before Sotheby’s third dedicated auction of Arab and Iranian contemporary art in London. Such a reaction—coupled with a muted start to the sale on 20 October—could have proved ominous for an emerging market that still needs to consolidate an international collector base. But, the auction proved to be fairly robust with the £3.2m total nudging the top end of the pre-sale estimate (£2.3m-£3.2m; estimates don’t include buyer’s premium, results do), with 75.3% sold by lot and 90.2% sold by value.
The sale room was dominated by established Egyptian collectors and young Iranian buyers, while a handful of key figures soon established their presence. One woman, who would only identify herself as a Middle Eastern collector living in London, bought three pieces: Lara Baladi’s The World in a Box, 2001, for £27,500 (est £18,000-£22,000); the 1955 oil Untitled by Adham Wanly for £16,250 (est £4,000-£6,000); and Seif Wanly’s Untitled, 1952 for £16,250 (est £4,000-£6,000).
Dubai-based collector Mohammed Afkhami, managing partner of MA Partners DMCC, a Middle Eastern commodities derivatives consultancy, made his mark, snapping up Monir Farmanfarmaian’s shimmering mirror piece Untitled, 1975, for £34,850 (est £25,000-£35,000) along with Minotauro, an imposing 1966 oil by Bahman Mohasses, for £49,250 (est £20,000-£30,000). Afkhami also underbid on the sale’s star item Untitled (From the Tree Trunks Series), 1976, by Iranian artist Sohrab Sepehri.
A bidding war for the painting—which is the largest work by the modernist artist to come to auction—resulted in a price of £409,250 (est £200,000-£300,000), setting a record for the artist at auction, and making the top lot in the sale.
Works by Farhad Moshiri comfortably exceeded estimates, but the poster boy of Iranian contemporary art surprisingly failed to make the top ten sales with his three lots: the garish oil and glitter piece Born Yesterday, 2007, which made £91,250 (est £60,000-£80,000); the 2006 oil 3haar, which fetched £97,250 (est £50,000-£70,000) and the sober painting Don’t Say it’s Too Late, Your Love Has Not Been Forgotten, 2005, which sold for £79,250 (est £60,000-£80,000).
Two works from a group of four paintings by the Egyptian artist Mahmoud Said, meanwhile, performed well. The four pieces came from the collection of Dr Elkayem, described by Sotheby’s as a “friend and confidante” of Said. The 1950 oil Marsa Matrouh, a representation of the Mediterranean coastline, sold to a phone bidder for £109,250 (est £60,000-£80,000). Bidding for Nude with a Pearl Choker, 1951-57, Said’s eye-catching interpretation of the Odalisque, moved tentatively upwards in £5,000 slices, eventually hammering at £145,000 (est £80,000-£120,000).
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Contemporary builds from quiet start'