Suez Canal Scene by Egyptian Artist Sets Record in Dubai

A watercolor and gouache work by Egyptian painter Abdul Hadi El-Gazzar depicting workers building the Suez Canal fetched $1.02 million, almost eight times its presale high estimate, setting an auction record for the artist last night in Dubai.

The painting, sold to a telephone bidder, was the top lot at the sale held by Christie’s International Plc. The previous record for El-Gazzar (1925-1966) was set at a Christie’s Dubai auction in 2011 when an oil painting sold for $746,500, according to ArtNet Worldwide Corp.

Christie’s took advantage of the influx of international visitors for this week’s eighth annual Art Dubai fair to hold its auction of Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish Art, which raised $10.6 million, an increase of 65 percent over last year’s sale. The London-based house, which held its first Dubai auction in 2006, is catering to the growing wealth fueled by the oil and gas industries in the region.

“This is Dubai at its best,” said Paul Hewitt, managing director of growth markets at Christie’s, who attended the Hamdan International Photography Award ceremony featuring a private acrobatic performance by Cirque du Soleil on March 17.

A mirror by Anish Kapoor and a chastity belt sculpture by Lebanese-Egyptian artist Lara Baladi are among as much as $45 million worth of contemporary art works on sale at Art Dubai.

VIPs including Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, and British furniture maker David Linley got a preview of the fair on March 18 at the Madinat Jumeirah Hotel where guests strolled the aisles sipping Ruinart champagne and snacking on hummus-filled cornets.

‘Global Footprint’

Anchoring a week of talks, art auctions and gallery openings, the Dubai art fair, which opened to the public yesterday and runs to March 22 is Dubai’s bid to become the arts hub of the Middle East.

“Our global footprint expands each year,” fair director Antonia Carver told a media conference, including 70 journalists flown in by fair organizers. A Bloomberg News reporter was not among them. “Dubai has been a trading city for such a long time, and we have seen more and more of that spirit going into the cultural sphere.”

The contemporary section of the fair includes 70 galleries, with combined art worth almost $45 million, she said. About half of the exhibitors are from the middle East and central Asia. Prices range from as little as $1,000 for emerging artists to a Kapoor gold mirror sculpture costing several hundred thousand dollars. For the first time, a separate section of modern art is also included.

Outside Exhibitors

The fair is attracting an increasing number of exhibitors from outside the region. New York-based gallery Tyler Rollins Fine Arts and Manhattan’s Gladstone Gallery, which is offering the Kapoor work alongside a painting by Iraqi artist Ahmed Alsoudani, are exhibiting for the first time.

“Dubai is a crossroads and a meeting point and a very international city where you have collectors and curators from all over Europe, South Asia and the Middle East,” said gallery owner Tyler Rollins, who brought works by Cambodian-American sculptor Sopheah Pich and Vietnamese-American painter Tiffany Chung. With six works sold during the VIP preview he said “It definitely lived up to our expectations.”

Wealthy buyers are flocking to art after prices surged in the past decade, beating asset classes such as U.S. stocks, gold and fine wine. The Artnet C50 Index, which combines performance data from 50 contemporary and postwar artists, advanced 434 percent from the beginning of 2003 through 2013, according to research firm Artnet. In the same period, as the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index of U.S. stocks advanced 160 percent and the NYSE Arca Gold Bugs Index climbed 51 percent, including reinvested dividends.

More Collectors

Ursula Krinzinger, whose Vienna-based Galerie Krinzinger participated in the first edition of Art Dubai, says the region’s collectors has grown significantly since then. Prominent patrons include the Sheikha Mayassa bint Hamad Al Thani, who commands a budget of about $1 billion per year, according to Art Review.

This year Krinzinger is offering photographs by Serbia-born Marina Ambramovic priced at 52,100 euros ($72,500), and a photographic collage by Lebanese artist Alfred Tarazi entitled “A Necromanic’s Dream” sold for 15,000 euros to a private collector from Saudi Arabia.

Dubai-based Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde sold a sculpture of a chastity belt by Lebanese-Egyptian artist Lara Baladi to a Saudi collector for 6,000 Euros. Baladi made her name for her politically charged photographs of the Tahrir Square uprising in Cairo in 2011.

At Christie’s auction last night, the lot with the highest presale estimate of $350,000, a fiberglass sculpture by Iranian artist Parviz Tanavoli, failed to sell.

Christie’s will be holding its watch sale tonight.

The Dubai Art Fair, sponsored by the Abraaj Group and EMAAR Properties, runs through March 22.


Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.