Rima Nasser: Dr. Ridha Moumni, Marhala: Highlights From The Dalloul Collection at Christie’s represents an extraordinary journey through modern and contemporary Arab art. Could you provide some insights into the selection of artworks and the narrative they convey about Arab artistic diversity and culture?
RM: This auction is far from an ordinary sale; it represents a carefully curated selection of 48 masterpieces from the Modern and Contemporary Arab art world, spanning the years 1938 to 2014. (It’s worth noting that this selection is a small part of the vast Dalloul Collection, which encompasses over 3,000 artworks.) Highlights include Mahmoud Saïd’s iconic masterpiece, Fille à l’imprimé (Girl in a printed dress), previously held in the esteemed collection of Hussein Pasha Sirry and exhibited during Saïd’s lifetime. Additionally, we showcase outstanding works by other modern masters, including Kadhim Hayder’s abstract composition, Dia al-Azzawi’s Summeria Face from the recent Beirut and the Golden Sixties exhibition, a distinctive 1980s piece by Mohamed Melehi, and a monumental marionette by Marwan. Our sale also includes works by influential figures who have left a lasting impact on the Lebanese Modern and Contemporary art scene, featuring remarkable pieces by Etel Adnan, Helen Khal, Ayman Baalbaki, Paul Guiragossian, Shafic Abboud, and Chaouki Choukini.
Many of these works originate from regions such as Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Morocco, and the Gulf, as we feature exceptional photographs by Ahmed Mater.
We have considered diversity and gender representation in both the Modern and Contemporary eras. Leading female artists, including Etel Adnan, Helen Khal, and the unique Samia Halaby, are featured. Notably, the sale includes two works by Samia Halaby, one of which is a mesmerising geometric composition from 1978. This commitment to representation and inclusiveness mirrors the depth and vastness of the Dalloul Collection. The collection serves as a testament to the Arab world, and this sale celebrates its rich and diverse arts and culture. It spans a wide geographical and cultural expanse, reflecting the breadth of creativity across the region. The Dalloul Art Collection is a living testament to the ever-evolving and vibrant Arab art scene. Marhala serves as a window into this beautiful and dynamic world.
RN: The Dalloul Art Collection is renowned for its breadth and depth. How do you see this collection contributing to the broader discourse on modern and contemporary Arab art, and what makes it stand out among other collections in the region?
RM: Dr Ramzi Dalloul was a Lebanese- Palestinian art patron who amassed the largest collection of Modern and Contemporary Arab art in private hands. The Dalloul Art Collection (located in Beirut, Lebanon), is known for its breadth and depth, reflecting the collectors’ high level of connoisseurship. What truly sets this collection apart is its representation of established and emerging artistic talent from across the Arab world, gathered over several decades by Dr. Ramzi Dalloul and his late wife Saeda Husseini and now continued by his son, Dr. Basel Dalloul. The collection stands as a living archive of contemporary Arab art spanning six decades, distinguishing it from other collections in the region whilst providing a comprehensive panorama of Arab art.
The Dalloul Art Collection carries a legacy and vision focused on fostering connection and education through art. Dr. Ramzi Dalloul’s enduring commitment to art as a means of serving humanity undoubtedly plays a crucial role in advancing the wider conversation about Modern and Contemporary Arab art. Ultimately, the collection serves as a guiding beacon, not only highlighting the remarkable arts and culture of the region but also making a significant contribution to the global narrative of Arab art.
RN: Dr. Basel Dalloul mentions the intention to refine the collection while enriching it with iconic modern masterpieces and emerging Arab art. From your perspective, what do you believe this approach brings to the future of the Dalloul collection and its representation of Arab artists?
RM: Dr. Basel Dalloul’s intention is to refine the Dalloul Collection while also infusing it with iconic Modern masterpieces and emerging Arab art, which represents his commitment to continuing his father’s legacy. It’s a journey that represents the spirit of Marhala, signifying a stage in the collection’s ongoing evolution.
This approach is instrumental in shaping the future of the Dalloul Collection and its representation of Arab artists, ensuring the collection remains dynamic and reflective of the region’s artistic vitality. Dr. Basel’s dedication to refining the collection and embracing emerging talent provides a crucial platform for these artists to gain international recognition, supporting new voices and fostering a sense of inclusivity and diversity. He is also bringing his own collecting practice of gathering Western art to shape the collection.
It is also worth noting that this approach also amplifies the voices of female artists, contributing to the collection’s inclusiveness and representation. His forward-looking strategy not only preserves the legacy of the Dalloul Collection but also ensures its continued relevance and significance in the ever-changing landscape of Arab art.
RN: The Dalloul collection has a deep connection with artists across the Arab region. Could you share some insights into the role of these relationships in shaping the collection and the impact it has on the appreciation of Arab art?
RM: It’s been a delight to witness the increased prominence of Arab artists from the region on a global stage recently with recognition given to iconic figures from the modern period. While there are still unexplored geographies, I’m genuinely satisfied with the current trajectory. The Dalloul family’s mission to establish this collection and create a lasting memory of the Arab world, as reflected through the preserved art, is commendable. I eagerly anticipate the continuation of this mission under the leadership of Dr. Basel Dalloul, with a more contemporary perspective.
It fills me with great excitement to see how the Dalloul collection will continue to align with this upward trend and further amplify the voices of these exceptional artists.
RN: In your role as deputy chairman at Christie’s Middle East and North Africa, how do you perceive the current landscape for modern and contemporary Arab art? What trends and developments do you observe, and what role does the Dalloul collection play in this context?
RM: There’s an undeniable recognition of iconic figures from the modern era, whose contributions to the region’s art history are garnering well-deserved international acclaim.
What’s particularly heartening is the recognition of artists hailing from countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar, with a special focus on the remarkable contributions of female
artists. These regions, along with pivotal art production centres such as the Levant and North Africa, are treasure troves of artistic creativity. The Dalloul collection stands as a testament to the richness of the Arab world, reflecting the social and cultural transformations while showcasing the refined creativity that has flourished within our communities.
RN: Marhala is an exciting exhibition in the midst of the flourishing Arab art market. What are your expectations for the reception of these masterpieces by both international and regional audiences, and how do you envision the future for this segment of the art market?
RM: I am consistently filled with optimism when it comes to the realm of Arab art and the art market. The local audience is increasingly exposed to art thanks to the growth of museums, galleries, and exhibitions, which acknowledge artists’ significant contributions. Recently, we’ve witnessed remarkable masterpieces entering various auction houses, all of which have enriched our understanding of Arab art and the history of these talented artists.
It’s a source of great pride for Christie’s to host Marhala and collaborate with Dr. Basel Dalloul and his team on this extraordinary sale. Rarely have we seen such a collection of high-quality works presented at once to the market.
I have great confidence in the appeal of these masterpieces, both to institutions and discerning collectors from the region, Europe, and the United States. The reputation of the Dalloul Collection will undoubtedly enhance the perceived quality of these works, and I am confident that many of them will find their place in prestigious collections. Recent market trends have shown a substantial appreciation for exceptional works, and I believe that by curating the most suitable Modern and Contemporary artworks from the Arab world for our audience, we can only anticipate a brighter future for the Arab art market and a significant increase of interest in this segment.
RN: As you continue your research on collecting practices in 19th-century North Africa and explore the role of the arts in nation-building in postcolonial Tunisia, how do these academic pursuits intersect with your work in the art industry and your role at Christie’s?
RM: In my previous career, I honed my skills in observing, analysing, and studying artworks, delving into the rich tapestry of cultures and civilisations through their artefacts. My journey led me to a deep understanding of art history, from antiquity to the present day, with a particular focus on Roman Art in North Africa during my PhD studies.
Since joining Christie’s, I have endeavoured to infuse an academic and educational approach into our work. This effort has taken the form of organising panel discussions, curating exhibitions, and developing educational programmes. I firmly believe that comprehending the art of our region and delving into the cultures of the Arab and Islamic world are pivotal aspects of our category’s future. It is worth noting that the role of an auction house holds particular significance in our region. This significance arises from the relative scarcity of art institutions and galleries compared to those found in Europe or North America. Consequently, we not only aim to offer exceptional pieces to our clients but also seek to provide guidance and promote cultural initiatives. In doing so, we often find ourselves assuming the role of cultural catalysts within our local community.
My career path, which bridges the worlds of academia and the auction industry, can contribute significantly, fostering a deeper appreciation for art and culture in our region and promoting it.
About Dr. Ridha Moumni
Dr. Ridha Moumni is a historian of art and archaeology who completed his PhD. in Roman art from La Sorbonne University. He serves as the Deputy Chairman of the Middle East and North Africa division at Christie’s auction house. A recognised scholar, Dr. Moumni has delivered lectures across universities and museums in the US, Europe, and the Arab world. His accolades include prizes and fellowships at the Villa Medici (French Academy in Rome) and Harvard University as an Aga Khan fellow.
With an interest in the cultural history of the Maghreb, Dr. Moumni delves into the early collecting practices of the region and the history of early paintings, alongside his contributions to Modern art. He has curated significant exhibitions, ranging from photography and 19th-century art to Modern Arab art. At Christie’s, Dr. Moumni plays a role in enhancing the institution’s footprint and strategy in the Middle East and North Africa.