Sotheby’s Tests Middle East Contemporary Art Market



A signature 1990 stack sculpture by Donald Judd is expected to sell for as much as $3.5 million Monday night in Doha, Qatar, as Sotheby’s aims to carve out a larger slice of the Middle East’s burgeoning market for contemporary art.

Sotheby’s second sale of modern and contemporary art in Doha is expected to bring four times as much as its first, in 2009. Including 47 works, the sale is expected to fetch up to $16.6 million. The auction house established an office in Doha in 2008; its 2009 sale of contemporary art there totaled just $4.3 million for 51 works.

The majority of the works on offer are by artists of Middle Eastern origin, such as Chant Avedissian, Aman Baalbaki and Farhad Moshiri. Also featured are seven works by artists such as Ai Weiwei, Maurizio Cattelan, Subodh Gupta, Damien Hirst and Donald Judd.

“These auctions are geared to Middle Eastern collectors but also to museums, such as the Louvre and the Guggenheim, that are building in the region,” Alia Fattouh, associate director at New York’s Lombard Freid Projects, told A.i.A. by phone. The gallery represents artists of Middle Eastern and African origin such as Haig Aivazian and Mounir Fatmi. “I imagine the Western artists are probably going to sell to museums,” she predicted.

Five of the sale’s highest-ticket items-works by Avedissian, Cattelan, Hirst, Judd and Mehretu­-are guaranteed to sell; the catalogue indicates that Sotheby’s and/or a third party has placed an “irrevocable bid” on each.

The sale’s priciest offering is Donald Judd’s 1990 wall sculpture Untitled (Bernstein 90-01), a signature stack of black aluminum and Plexiglas boxes tagged at $2.5-$3.5 million.

Gracing the cover of the sale catalogue is Ethiopian-born Julie Mehretu’s Rising Down (2008), with an estimate of $2-$3 million. The 8-by-12-foot ink and synthetic polymer paint on canvas work is marked by swaths of black and brightly colored paint overlaying an architectural matrix.

Avedissian’s Icons of the Nile (1991-2010) is an installation of 120 gouache and ink on panel paintings depicting national heroes, politicians, singers and actors of his native Egypt. The largest work in the artist’s oeuvre according to the catalogue, it’s estimated at $1-$1.5 million.

Some of the Western works seem as though they were chosen to appeal to Middle Eastern sensibilities, such as an untitled 2004 oil and enamel painting by Rudolf Stingel (est. $500,000-$700,000) whose decorative patterns echo Islamic design.

Others address the upheaval and violence that have marked the region, such as an untitled 2011 painting by Iraqi-born Ahmed Alsoudani ($350,000-$450,000) that evokes the carnage of war via body parts with roughly stitched wounds. Adel Abidin’s sculpture I’m Sorry (2008) presents in a lightbox sculpture the words Westerners frequently say when they learn of the artist’s Iraqi origins. It’s estimated at $30,000-$50,000.

New York dealer Leila Heller, who represents a number of artists from the region, pointed out that Sotheby’s inclusion of Western artists reflects growing interest by Qatari buyers.

She speculated that the reason for Hirst’s inclusion might be twofold.

“There are many of his works on the market in the West,” she said, but she added that since there is a Hirst show currently at Al Riwaq, an exhibition space on the grounds of Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art, “it might be the perfect time to sell in the Middle East.”

PHOTO: Ahmed Alsoudani: Untitled (2011), acrylic, charcoal and gesso on canvas, 62 by 97 3/4 inches. Estimate: $350,000-$450,000.