Modernism gives Art Dubai sales a boost

Rediscovered work from the 20th century has new relevance today

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Dubai. Dealers in the contemporary sections of the Art Dubai fair last month reported fairly brisk sales, with local and regional private and institutional collectors buying works at prices from around $5,000 to $100,000, with the occasional near-million-dollar spike. Victoria Miro Gallery, which showed artists including Idris Khan, creator of the new war memorial in Abu Dhabi, and the environmental artist Alex Hartley, said that “the booth had almost sold out” (with prices from $20,000 to $800,000). The Dubai-based gallery The Third Line dedicated its booth to the 2017 Abraaj Prize-winner Rana Begum, selling almost all of the pieces by the Bangladeshi artist on the first day of the fair (£6,000-£25,000).

Selma Feriani Gallery sold a series of 16 works on paper by the Algerian artist Yazid Oulab to a regional private collection ($48,000). Vigo Gallery’s pen and ink on paper by Modern master Ibrahim El-Salahi (Untitled, 1964) sold for £22,000 to a Dubai-based private collector. At Galerie Daniel Templon, three works by the Senegal-born artist Omar Ba were sold, including Dust Storm in Kidal (2013) for €30,000. London’s Kristin Hjellegjerde gallery also witnessed interest in African art, with sales of three works by Dawit Abebe for $15,000 each.

Middle Eastern Modern on the up In the section of the fair called Art Dubai Modern, 15 galleries showed 20th-century artists from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Cairo’s ArtTalks gallery reported sales of oils by Ghaleb Khater and Mamdouh Ammar. Galerie El Marsa of Tunisia and Dubai made “many sales” of works by Aly Ben Salem and Abdelkader Guermaz, the latter’s Dunes Perverses (1978) fetching $75,000. The gallery also confirmed sales of Ben Salem’s The Woman and The Falconer to a new collector for around $60,000, while Woman Resting and Peacock went to an existing client for around $60,000.

Ramallah’s Gallery One, presenting work by Sliman Mansour, saw healthy sales to new clients, including On the Edge (1985) for $60,000. London’s Grosvenor Gallery mounted a solo show of works by the Indian master S.H. Raza, five of which had sold by the time of writing, two to institutions and three to private collectors. Jeddah’s Hafez Gallery reported three sales, including Mohammed Ghaleb Khater’s The March (1970s) at $75,000 and Stamp of Nation (1970) for around $80,000, while the sculptor Abdel Hadi Al Weshahi’s The Oud Player (1990) went for around $45,000.

Interest in the region’s Modernists has resulted in the publication of the first catalogue raisonné dedicated to a Middle Eastern artist: Egypt’s Mahmoud Saïd (1897-1964). His oils of Alexandrian people and landscapes are highly sought after and go for as much as $300,000. The catalogue, published by Skira last month and co-written by Valérie Didier Hess, the director of business development at Christie’s Dubai, and Hussam Rashwan, an Alexandrian collector of Modern Egyptian art, includes 56 newly discovered works.

Beyond Saïd, collectors are also seeking out lesser-known 20th-century names who synthesised European and Arab ideas in search of new forms of expression. Their works speak of periods of profound social and cultural change and ongoing tensions with colonialism, domestic power struggles and deep-rooted issues of Islamic identity—all of which retain their relevance today.