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Crystal-Studded Painting Boosts $5.5 Million Dubai Sale

'Secret Garden'
Auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen takes bids as Farhad Moshiri's "Secret Garden" climbs towards a final sale price of $987,750 at Christie’s in Dubai. The auctions will continue with more lots at the Emirates Towers Hotel. Source: Christie's Images Ltd. 2013 via Bloomberg

A large crystal-studded bear embracing a sleeping child by Farhad Moshiri was the top lot today at an auction in Dubai estimated to raise $5.5 million as Christie’s International tests demand for Middle Eastern art.

“Secret Garden” by Iran’s Moshiri sold for $987,750 with fees to a private collector. It was valued at as much as $500,000 at hammer prices in the two-day event in Dubai. The painting depicts the artist, as a child in pajamas, carried into a fantasy forest of sparkling flowers. In 2008, Moshiri was the first Middle Eastern artist to sell a work at an auction for more than $1 million.

The first day of the sale featured works from Morocco to Iran via Syria and Turkey. Tomorrow’s auction has lots starting from $3,000 by about 90 artists, a quarter of them represented for the first time in an international auction.

The market is now “more sustainable with much steadier growth,” Michael Jeha, managing director of Christie’s in the Middle East, said in an interview before the sale. The boom of 2007 and 2008 was overheated and fueled by speculation, he said.

Dubai went on a spending binge to turn itself into the business hub of the Persian Gulf in the years before the global credit crisis. Its economy is forecast to grow 4.6 percent, on average, between 2012 and 2015.

With more than 40 galleries, the United Arab Emirates city, which was on the brink of default in 2009, remains the nucleus of the Middle East’s contemporary-art scene as the oil-rich Persian Gulf uses its wealth to become a global art player.

Guggenheim, Louvre

Dubai last month held the seventh edition of the annual art fair, Art Dubai, welcoming 75 museum groups and galleries from 30 countries. Abu Dhabi, the U.A.E’s capital, is planning to open a local branch of the Louvre in 2015 and of the Guggenheim two years later.

A bronze sculpture by Iran’s Parviz Tanavoli entitled “The Poet and the Key” sold for $147,750 to a private Middle Eastern collector. It was estimated to fetch $100,000 to $150,000. A sculpture by him sold for $2.84 million at a Christie’s in 2008, an auction record for a Middle Eastern artist.

Two works from Morocco’s Lalla Essaydi, “Bullets Revisited #3” and “Harem Revisited #33”, sold for $81,250 and $75,000 respectively. They were estimated at $40,000 to $60,000. Each portrays a languid woman, her face and feet covered in an oriental-style script, reclining on a backdrop of bullets or elaborate textiles.

Christie’s sold $6.4 million of art in its April 2012 sale in Dubai and $5.9 million in October 2012. Buyers are predominantly from the Middle East and Dubai itself, though about a third of them are international, with a growing base from London, New York and Asian cities, Jeha said.

Moshiri, who was born in 1963, lives and works in Tehran. His “Love” sold for $1.05 million at Bonhams’s first Dubai auction.

Muse highlights include Laurie Muchnick and Mark Beech on books, Jorg von Uthmann on Paris art and Jeremy Gerard on U.S. theater.

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