Dubai hosts Mideast's first big art auction, fetches $8.5 million in sales

This status-obsessed Gulf city notched another milestone Wednesday as international auction house Christie's pulled off the Middle East's first major international art auction, selling paintings by Indian artists for more than a half-million dollars apiece, among total sales that reached US$8.5 million (Ђ6.7 million).

A handful of American works changed hands too, with Andy Warhol's black-and-white "Double Mona Lisa," reaping US$163,200 (Ђ128,000).

The auction also featured the first-ever major sale of contemporary Middle Eastern art, much of which garnered record prices in lively bidding.

A cartoon-like 1979 painting titled "Numbers" by India's Rameshwar Broota was the night's star, fetching US$912,000 (Ђ715,000) amid heavy applause.

The auction nearly doubled Christie's expectations of raising US$4.5 million (Ђ3.5 million), much of which came from pocketbooks of Indian expatriates and oil-rich Gulf royals. Most buyers chose to remain anonymous.

Works included abstract paintings, calligraphy, photographs and sculptures from Iraq, Iran, India, Libya, Syria and Saudi Arabia as well as those of western artists.

Among those commanding the highest bids were modern paintings from India's Progressive Artists Group, which was formed just after Indian independence from British rule in 1947.

Syed Haider Raza's painting "Sourya (Sun)," a row of three earthy shapes ranging from light to dark, reaped US$520,000 (Ђ408,000), while his jumbled "Ciel Bleu" landscape sold for US$330,000 (Ђ259,000).

Francis Newton Souza's violently brushstroked paintings were among the top draws. His 1960's "Green Landscape" sold for US$216,000 (Ђ170,000) and 1958's "Monsoon" for US$285,000 (Ђ224,000), while his gentler "Goa Landscape" brought US$174,000 (Ђ136,000).

In March, Christie's auction of 120 Indian works in New York brought in US$15.6 million (Ђ12.1 million). On Wednesday, Middle Eastern artists appeared poised to follow the sales boom in Indian paintings.

Works by Egyptian artist Ahmed Moustafa, including "Orbits of Praise," selling for US$240,000 (Ђ188,000), and "Where Two Oceans Meet," which sold for double the expected price, going after a flurry of rising bids for US$285,000 (Ђ223,000).

"This has gone beyond our expectations," Christie's spokeswoman Catherine Manson said in the ballroom of Dubai's Emirates Towers, a pair of ultramodern skyscrapers resembling razor blades. "It'll be interesting to see whether a market develops for their works and whether the Mideast emerges as the next big art market."

Gulf Arabs have long been avid art collectors but until recently traveled to Europe and America to do their haggling, reports AP.

O.Ch.