Sotheby’s first auction in Dubai took place on November 13, setting numerous record prices for artists from the region and helping to further cement Dubai’s place as a center for cultural commerce.

Entitled “Boundless: Dubai,” the auction saw five record prices for artists from the region, including Ali Banisadr’s mesmerizing canvas In Media Res, which arrived at a final sale of $459,000, well above its pre-sale estimate of $200,000-300,000.

Also achieving a record price was a captivating documentary from 1948 by Marcel Ichac, the first and earliest known English-speaking footage of a pilgrimage to Mecca, which fetched $62,500, more than four fold its pre-sale estimate of $10,000-15,000.

The late Emirati artist Hassan Sharif’s Garden #1 also set performed well, selling for $23,750, beatings its pre-sale estimate by nearly double. Interestingly, the auction also brought together international artists from the West whose fascination with the Middle East had been evident throughout their careers, case in point a lot by the French artist and leading proponent of art brut, Jean Dubuffet, whose painting of a Bedouin community in Algeria, entitled Palmiers aux Bedouins, fetched nearly double its pre-sale estimate closing at $137,500.

Sotheby’s latest foray into the Gulf is being spear headed by Ashkan Baghestani, the auctioneer’s Arab and Iranian specialist and head of sale. In bringing a unique and historically important blend of regional and international art to market, Baghestani has set the tone of what we can expect from future Sotheby’s sales in Dubai.

Sotheby’s initial success helps establish faith in Dubai as a leading hub for bringing regional artists to market. Not far from the Dubai International Financial Centre where Sotheby’s office and gallery are located, galleries in Al Quoz have certainly taken note of the auction house’s success, many of them with vested interests in seeing art from the region continue to flourish and achieve record numbers. Sotheby’s initial success reflects not only how engaged the art world has become with the region, but perhaps more importantly the extraordinary quality and diversity of works that are only now being discovered and coming to market.


Featured Image: Lot 39, Tamara de Lempicka, Indien à Turban (Indian with Turban), oil on canvas, 1939, estimated at $70,000 – 90,000, sold for $150,000.

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, Letters From The Past #43 pages 64-66.