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Auction action
by Muhammad Yusuf July 13, 2017
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Artnet Auctions, the auction arm of artnet, one of the leading online resources for the international art market and a premiere destination to buy, sell, and research art online, closed its bids for its fifth auction dedicated to Modern and Contemporary Middle Eastern art ‘Art in the Middle East: 1950s to the Present’ on July 10.

Since its inaugural sale in February, artnet Auctions’ Middle Eastern department has devoted itself to promoting art from Arab countries and engaged in an important dialogue about the increasing, international prominence of Middle Eastern art.

“We are very proud to hold our fifth auction dedicated to Modern and Contemporary Middle Eastern art sale at artnet, as a response to the ever-growing interest in this field”, said Bibi Zavieh, artnet Auction’s Senior Specialist of Contemporary Middle Eastern Art.

“It has been very encouraging to discover a real appetite for works by artists from Arab countries, Iran, Turkey and North Africa, with interest coming from around the world, from collectors based in the Americas to those based in Europe and Asia”.

The current sale continued this effort while also questioning the East/West duality of artists working in a globalised world, by including a majority of artists who live and work in the West.

“With the current political situation and the Middle East being constantly on the radar for the past decades, it is fascinating to see how the artists reflect on the social, economic, cultural and political situation of their homelands”, said Zavieh. “Most artists in the sale now live and work in the West, and their works reflect on the dualities of their identity. This sale, like our previous auctions held since February, does really create bridges between the two worlds on many levels”.

The top lot from the auction was Erol Akyavas’ ‘Untitled’ painting (1957). The work is not only from the early years of Akyavas’ career but was also the earliest work in the sale. Since the 1950s, only two other works of similar size by the artist have been offered at auction - and both sold for either more than double or triple a low estimate.

The composition comes from a collection in Michigan, where it has remained in private hands since 1960, when the current owner’s aunt and uncle acquired the painting directly from the artist. There was a full condition report on the lot page and the authenticity of the work was been confirmed by the artist’s widow, Ilona Akyavas.

Another highlight of the sale was Pouya Afshar’s ‘Tehran’. This drawing is part of the artist’s series ‘Romance With The Crow I Killed’ and collapses personal and socio-political perspectives of Tehran into a single, story-like timeline.

In it, the viewer glimpses powerful symbols of both Iranian cultural heritage and Western political influences. The dichotomy is reflective of Afshar’s own experience, as he received his education and now works as an assistant professor in the United States, but visited Iran regularly from 2001 to 2014.

The sale also included two works from photographer Youssef Nabil, who has enjoyed success on artnet’s platform. His ‘Raina, Cairo’ photograph, which sold for a record $54,000 on artnet last year, helped form the impetus to establish an independent Contemporary Middle Eastern art department within artnet Auctions.

One of the works by Nabil in the sale, his 2005 photograph titled ‘Higher & Higher, Self-Portrait, Vienna’, represents a departure from his typically passive approach to self-portraiture. Here, he assumes a more active, performative role in his self-portrait, giving the viewer a glimpse into his life and travels.

Beyond the sale, Zavieh was optimistic about the future of the Middle Eastern art market and artnet’s place within it. “We have also seen growing numbers and rising interest in private sales for the field and we are very optimistic about the next few months. Our strategy is to hold sales regularly to reiterate artnet’s dedication to this new field and we will also organise events and work closely with our gallery and partnerships team to build a growing presence in this market”, she said.

Most recently, artnet opened their office to host a panel discussion on the rise of Middle Eastern art’s international prominence and how technology made this possible. Zavieh spoke on the panel alongside Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, art collector, and Leila Taghinia-Milani Heller, gallery owner.

The panelists agreed that technology and social media was a major asset in meeting the growing demand for Middle Eastern art around the globe.

“There has been a great impact on Middle Eastern art as a result of social media”, said Al Qassemi. “And of course, it’s a way for people to display their work, it’s a way to skirt around the censorship. They become their own gallery. Which is not always a good thing, of course. We want galleries. But sometimes artists, especially the younger ones who aren’t able to access the galleries, they start marketing for themselves. It’s also a tool for education. A lot of people can’t find books or read essays so they access these essays, these books and these articles online”.

“When you look at followers of our Instagram page at artnet, it’s really interesting to see that the third city in terms of number of followers is actually Tehran”, said Zavieh. “I think the first is New York, the second is London and the third one is Tehran – it’s really surprising. But technology is very prominent in that region”.

artnet was founded in 1989, with the goal of serving the art market by improving communication and transactions between all parties involved in the buying or selling of art. It operates the largest database of art sales, hosting over eleven million results spanning over 30 years, and provides the art market with many products and services, such as artnet Auctions, artnet Price Database, and artnet Analytics.

With 24/7 bidding, artnet Auctions is the first online auctions platform for buying and selling Modern and Contemporary paintings, prints, photographs, sculpture, and more. In 2012, artnet launched a 24-hour global art newswire, artnet News.

Serving as a one-stop platform for the events, trends, and people that shape the art market and global industry, artnet is the original art market disruptor! Its Price Database brings an unrivalled level of transparency and accessibility to the art market. One can be sure that as the market for art continues to grow and change, artnet will find new ways for people to connect with the art they love!

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