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Christie’s paints a pretty picture in the Middle East

Dubai: Sales of fine art and collectibles at Christie’s auctions in the Middle East rose substantially and surpassed the growth of global sales last year, amid a growing demand for contemporary art from Arab and international buyers.

More than 100 works of art, mostly paintings, went under the hammer at the company’s auctions held in Dubai last year, bringing the total proceeds from Middle Eastern art sales to $18.4 million (Dh67 million), up 30 per cent from 2012.

Global sales of the London-based auction house for the year ending December 2013 increased by 14 per cent to $7.13 billion, the highest sales total for the company.

Affluent collectors in the region are spending more money on art, particularly contemporary pieces by celebrated artists, as interest rates remain low and investors are looking for other avenues to store their wealth. Works by artists from Egypt, Iran, Lebanon and Syria have become hugely popular.

Last year, one of the biggest money-makers at Christie’s auction was a painting by Turkish-Jordanian modernist Far El-Nissa Zeid, called ‘Break of the Atom and Vegetal Life’, which sold for $2.7 million (Dh10 million). Zeid, who died in 1991, earned the title of Princess when she married the King of Iraq’s brother in 1933. Another top seller was Iranian contemporary artist Farhad Moshiri’s ‘The Secret Garden’, sold for $987,750. One of Moshiri’s artworks had previously fetched more than $1 million in 2008.

“The Middle East results were driven by an increase in new buyers from around the region. We are also seeing more international participation in the Middle Eastern art category,” Michael Jeha, managing director at Christie’s Middle East, told Gulf News on Sunday.

Jeha said their sales were in part supported by the introduction of new channels through which buyers can purchase artworks at their convenience, such as Christie’s online auctions and private sales.

Watches also emerged as a lucrative category at Christie’s auction in the region last year, with sales reaching $1.5 million. “We introduced watches for the first time after a few years last October in Dubai. We sold almost all the pieces, so we are bringing back the watch auction and the plan is to hold it twice a year as we do with the art sales,” Jeha said.

Outside the Middle East, Christie’s noticed an increase in new buyers from different markets, including China. About a third of Christie’s buyers last year were new and accounted for 22 per cent of the sales total.

“We continue to see a surge in interest across categories and across the globe, fuelled in large part by the online platform enabling greater connectivity between buyers, sellers and the objects of their pursuit,” Steve Murphy, chief executive officer at Christie’s, said.