Billionaires Splash Out on Middle-East Art as Dubai Fair Grows

Billionaire collectors splashed out in Dubai as galleries reported stronger sales and a growing interest in Middle Eastern art.

Business at Art Dubai was better than last year, when the global economic crisis depressed sales, said dealers. Buyers shrugged off worries about political unrest and natural disasters that held back business at the world’s largest art- and-antiques fair, Tefaf, taking place in the Netherlands.

Art Dubai, a bellwether for contemporary and Middle Eastern art, this year featured 82 galleries from 34 countries. Fair organizers said “several hundred” galleries applied to participate, and 80 percent of them reapplied from last year. Artworks were priced from $5,000 to $1 million.

“Art Dubai is a meeting point for the international and Middle Eastern art communities,” Antonia Carver, Art Dubai’s director, said. “Dubai historically has been important as a trading point for the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Now, the same thing is happening for contemporary art.”

Traffic Gallery of Dubai reported 40 works sold for a total of more than $100,000. One of Ahmed Mater’s “Evolution of Man” series (2010) was bought by a Saudi collector for $30,000 just before the fair opened. The light-box work shows a gasoline pump morphing into the X-rayed skeleton of a human holding a gun to his head.

“There’s a bedrock of collectors here from the Middle East and Europe,” said Carver. “A lot of Middle Easterners come to the fair from New York and London.”

Russia’s Miami

Aidan Gallery of Moscow sold a work from Aladdin Garunov’s “Zikr” series for $20,000 to a Middle Eastern collector living in Europe. It features shoes fastened to an oriental carpet. The artist is from Russia’s southern region of Dagestan.

“Dubai is Russia’s Miami, and many of my Russian clients vacation here,” said Aidan Salakhova, the gallery owner. “Last year Art Dubai was dead and we twiddled our thumbs: This year there’s strong interest from serious potential buyers.”

Ayyam Gallery sold “Dream 40” by Safwan Dahoul for $300,000 to an “important public institution.” Galerie Chantal Crousel of Paris said a Gulf collector bought “Intermission” by Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, who will represent the U.S. at the Venice Biennale of Contemporary Art that opens in June.

Artspace Gallery of Dubai reported sales including Nadine Hammam’s “Got Love” (2010) that shows the silhouette of a female nude. It sold for $16,000 to a Dubai collector. The gallery also sold Zakaria Ramhani’s, “Bye Bye Hosni,” (2011) for $26,000. Its theme is Hosni Mubarak’s recent removal as president of Egypt.

Art Dubai said 20,000 people attended, 30 percent more than last year. The British Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum and Royal Academy of London sent representatives. Serpentine Gallery co-director Hans Ulrich Obrist, Museum of Modern Art director Glenn Lowry and Richard Armstrong, director of the Guggenheim Museum, also attended, the organizers said.

Art Dubai ended on March 19; Tefaf, the European Fine Art Fair, in Maastricht, the Netherlands, runs through March 27.

(John Varoli writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: John Varoli in Dubai at jvaroli@gmail.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at mbeech@bloomberg.net.

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