Bargains abound in Middle Eastern art market

Bargains abound in Middle Eastern art market

A painting by Iraqi artist Jewad Salim

13 November 2011

NEARLY every week throughout 2011, our news website for collectible investors has reported on new world record prices in the global auction markets. A lot of the most exciting activity has been happening in the Middle East.

Examples include a Christie’s auction of modern and contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish art in Dubai last April. It saw an incredible 42 new world record prices in one auction. And, while previous UAE auctions starred Western artists like Picasso or Warhol, each of those 42 records was scored by a Middle Eastern artist.

This was a big step for the UAE art markets. Prior to this, it was commonly held that native collectors were ‘still catching on’ to buying Middle Eastern art. They appear to have now caught up – and it will no longer be mainly Western buyers who determine Arab art market values.

In fact, buyers from East and West are bidding in auctions across the globe more than ever before, thanks to the internet. Another world record was achieved last June by the 'Shahnameh', or 'Book of Kings', of Shah Tahmasp of Persia. It sold in London, for £7.4 million ($12m) at Sotheby’s.

These results tell us that the collectibles markets are stronger than ever – in sharp contrast to the global economic downturn.

Yet all this talk of new world record prices may seem perplexing if you’ve never participated in the market before. Perhaps you don’t have $20,000 or $200,000 to invest in an artwork. Even if you did, perhaps you wouldn’t part with that kind of cash when only dipping your toe into collectibles for the first time. However, you don’t need to have such deep pockets to get a piece of the action...

International buyers grow

Fortunately, Christie’s – the first international auction house to set up a permanent base in the Middle East, in 2006 – recently answered the prayers of hesitant first-time buyers. At its Middle East sales last month, the firm deliberately presented lots with lower estimates in the region of $2,000.

This also freed Christie’s to expand upon its remit and sell works by new and emerging artists. Artworks by Sohrab Sepehri, Farhad Moshiri, Louay Kayyali, Paul Guiragossian, Mahmoud Said and Charles Hossein Zenderoudi appeared for sale.

The aim of this, as stated by Christie’s, was to encourage a new, younger group of buyers. The auction house believes it is also a reflection of the “continuing maturity” of the market in the region and an “ever-increasing” group of international buyers.

Long-term investments

As the collectibles markets grow internationally, auctioneers and high-end dealers are deliberately reaching out to first-time buyers.

Because of this, the Middle East art markets offer increasing options if you are a new or first-time buyer on a budget. You can spend your money when and where you like, at a rate you feel comfortable with.

Better still, many Middle Eastern artworks – by both established and emerging artists – have yet to reach their full potential as assets.

Take a giant of the market like Jewad Salim, for instance, regarded by many as the ‘father’ of modern Arab art. The sale of Salim’s Mother and Child sculpture for $384,000, last year, was impressive.

But this pales in comparison to the millions made at auction by foreign artists of his stature. Like the Flowers and Insects series of drawings by China’s greatest oriental painter Qi Baishi. These recently sold for $12.47m at auction.

In other words, the Middle Eastern art markets hold plenty of opportunities for you to buy artworks before they rise in value.

Do your research and look at it as a long-term investment, and you too can enjoy the varied, expanding and highly-rewarding Middle East art markets.

Have you bought a work by a Middle Eastern artist? Tell cashy...


  • ConsumerWatch

    This is very insightful Paul, thank you, and you are so right to caution would be investors to: “Do your research and look at it as a long-term investment, and you too can enjoy the varied, expanding and highly-rewarding Middle East art markets.   

    This trend has also recently been noted in an interesting article in The National where they offer these words of caution: “Anyone tempted to enter this increasingly buoyant market should realise that investing in art is far more complex and challenging than virtually any other investment medium. Unlike gold or silver, there is no easy benchmark by which to judge quality or precise investment value. For this reason, the best investors tend to be connoisseurs, although the less experienced often employ the services of a specialist art investment adviser.” Adding: "The art market is quite complicated. Connoisseurship is something you can't pick up overnight. It's learnt over time by looking at objects and training one's eye, and learning about artists and the best periods of their work"

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