On October 24, 2010, Mahmoud Said's "Whirling Dervish" sold for an incredible 2 million dollars at the Christie's Dubai auction.
In the nineties, I used to follow the stock market, and invested some cash in Starbucks shares. I would always grab the financial pages of the Boston Globe, while sipping a capuccino at Starbucks and look up my favorite stocks. I predicted Abercrombie and Fitch would do very well. We also invested in Millennium Pharmaceuticals because one of our friends who worked there, vouched for the company.
Auctions in Dubai for Middle Eastern art reminds me of trading floors. Trigger happy individuals brandish their paddles, and telephone bidders are fiercely competitive. I confess that I often hold a paddle myself but I am always looking for bargains, hoping to buy a piece for under the asking price. I once was very fortunate to be the only bidder on a Ghada Amr piece and realized that this famed Arab New Yorker wasn't appreciated yet in Dubai and the region.
is very talented at what he does. By now, almost a dozen auctions behind me, I have grown accustomed to his mannerisms, his body language and distinguished British accent. He stands like an orchestra conductor, hammer in hand, and his cadence, tempo and perfectly studied pauses combine to raise the prices to triple value (or more). I particularly appreciate his "fair warning", meaning in simple terms: "this is your last chance guys!".
The Christie's art auctions in Dubai may be a stage for us to watch speculation at an extravagant level, but they are first and foremost very rich cultural experiences. The previews that are so beautifully curated at the Emirates Towers are rare occasions for us to view and especially get better acquainted with Middle Eastern art. I have learned so much throughout these events and have always had the assistance of experts to explain and answer any question, something I rarely find in a museum.
In museums, I am always keeping an eye out for pieces that are on loan from private collections because I believe I will never see them again, as they will comfortably be hung in the living rooms of the privileged. I think auctions are similar: many of these paintings and sculptures are exiting from living rooms (and diverse artist studios or galleries) and most of them are entering the privacy of new collections. Here is the rare opportunity to view them before they are traded!
On my last trip to Instanbul, I went in search of contemporary art. The art galleries are so far flung from one another, with strange closing hours, and when we did battle traffic and found them, the temporary exhibits were often disapointing, featuring only one artist. This made me think how different my art appreciation experience is in Dubai, thanks to the efforts made by William Laurie and Hala Khayat, who build a beautiful collection every season!
William Laurie has left Christie's and will venture into other art activities and I wish him all the best! He has taught me a wealth of knowledge on Middle Eastern art and I am very grateful.