Lebanese Artists Are Most Sought-After in the World

Published October 20th, 2019 - 08:43 GMT
Ayman Baalbaki. Untitled (Série Détruite), 2009-10, acrylic on canvas. It's among the works being auctioned Tuesday. (Photos courtesy of Sotheby's)
Ayman Baalbaki. Untitled (Série Détruite), 2009-10, acrylic on canvas. It's among the works being auctioned Tuesday. (Photos courtesy of Sotheby's)
Art broker Sotheby's has been following artist trends since 1744.

Art broker Sotheby’s has been following artist trends since 1744, auctioning some of the finest art ever created, and servicing to the secondary art market. Visiting Beirut for the Sursock Museum’s exhibition “Picasso et la famille,” Sotheby’s Cairo-based Middle East consultant Mai Eldib offered some insight into which Lebanese artists were sought-after and what Lebanese collectors were buying.

“I think the market is extremely healthy and strong for quality works, for rare, highly coveted works,” Eldib said. “Since 2018 we’ve had an increase of a third in Lebanese bidders and buyers in our sales, for impressionist and contemporary art and jewelry, which is a huge uptake.

“For the Middle Eastern art market there has been a 70 percent increase in Lebanese buyers and an 80 percent increase in Lebanese bidders over the last three years,” she added, “which results overall in a 60 percent increase in the number of lots purchased.”

Iranian and Egyptian modernist art remains the hottest lots in the Middle East, but Lebanese contemporary artists like Walid Raad and Akram Zaatari are finding a place in the global market. Set aside in the past, female artists are now being recognized for their importance.

Eldib recalled auction records set during recent sales of work by Etel Adnan and the late Huguette Caland. An untitled 1973 work by Caland, a rich crimson and emerald depiction the female form, sold for a record $242,569. A ’60s-era landscape canvas by Adnan made its auction debut at $171,137, more than triple its estimate.

“I feel there is an appetite for female artists,” she said. “At the last Made in LA biennial [exhibition], there was so much news coverage about how an old lady [Caland] was able to outshine every single young artist.”

With this in mind, Eldib said Sotheby’s would take some chances in its Oct. 22 auction of Middle Eastern art in London, featuring works that would not have sold seven years ago.

“We’re honored to have a work by Saloua Raouda Choucair,” Eldib said. “It’s the first time there is a work on paper by her at auction. We also have Rima Amyuni, who we’ve never included before but we think now is the right time.”

The sale will have one section devoted to Armenian artists, featuring the work of Seta Manoukian, and another including Arab artists who studied in the Soviet Union.

Manoukian, Eldib said, “is one of these artists that has never appeared at auction and it’s a very rare work as there are very few left in the market by her, so it’s a great opportunity to acquire a piece by her.”

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The sale will feature “Al Ghadab Al Saateh,” by Nazim Irani, who studied in the USSR.

“It’s probably one of the last surviving works by Irani because most of his works were destroyed in the Civil War,” Eldib said. “It’s another opportunity to acquire works by Lebanese artists that have basically been forgotten and not circulated in the market, which is something that excites me.”

Other Lebanese and Armenian artists whose works will be auctioned in the forthcoming sale include Ayman Baalbaki, Bibi Zogbe, Helen Khal, Nabil Nahas, Paul Guiragossian, Saliba Douaihy, Shafic Abboud, Willy Aractingi and Ziad Antar.

While Sotheby’s deals in millions of dollars when selling or acquiring artwork, Eldib stressed that the auctioneer was secondary in valuing art on the market.

“We focus on the secondary market, something that has been sold and resold,” she explained. “Maybe it’s a work on paper, maybe it’s from a later period or it depends on what condition it’s in. All these things play a role into pricing artwork.

“We’re not in the business of pricing young artists, we’re looking at things that are established and have been in the market repeatedly.

“Whenever there is institutional support for artists you really see a change in the price structure,” she added. “When we saw Huguette Caland after her recent Tate St. Ives show, there was a real surge in the price for her work. When an institution gives its blessing and backing on the work, it gives a support to them and says they believe in the longevity of this artist’s work, which is attractive to collectors.”

Sotheby’s also has an educational arm to their art dealings, seeking to educate anyone interested on the artwork or artists they sell - a chance to broaden collectors’ horizons but also give more than just what can be seen on canvas. Sotheby’s, Eldib said, is dedicated to education.

“Prior to every sale we host an educational day where we show a documentary, have a talk, have a book launch on an artists, because we really believe it’s important to disseminate this knowledge we have on our artworks.”

This article has been adapted from its original source.

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