DUBAI: The status-obsessed Gulf emirate of Dubai 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 $8.5 million.
A handful of American works changed hands too, with Andy Warhol s black-and-white Double Mona Lisa, reaping $163,200.
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 $912,000 amid heavy applause.
The auction nearly doubled Christie s expectations of raising $4.5 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 $520,000, while his jumbled Ciel Bleu landscape sold for $330,000.
Francis Newton Souza s violently brush-stroked paintings were among the top draws. His 1960 s Green Landscape sold for $216,000 and 1958 s Monsoon for $285,000, while his gentler Goa Landscape brought $174,000.
In March, Christie s auction of 120 Indian works in New York brought in $15.6 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, were selling for $240,000, and Where Two Oceans Meet, which sold for double the expected price, going after a flurry of rising bids for $285,000.
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.
With the ongoing oil boom funneling hundreds of billions of dollars to energy rich Gulf countries, Manson said it was time the international art market catered to the region. The London-based auctioneer opened its first Middle East office in Dubai in April, intending to push art as an alternative investment to real estate and stocks.
Organizers took the unusual step of banning photographers from the auction, and corralling reporters far away from bidders, as a way to lure participation from media-shy members of Gulf royal families.
Cosmopolitan Dubai, the flashiest of the seven emirates forming the United Arab Emirates, is also considered an attractive art market because it is also home to more than a million expatriates, including wealthy Indians, Pakistanis, Iranians and Europeans.
Other major highlights of Wednesday s auction included Warhol s 1978 print of a pair of Mona Lisa heads, as well as his silk-screened Fish, which fetched $38,400.
The value of Warhol works auctioned in Dubai are a far cry from the $11.8 million paid at a New York auction this month for his 1962 painting of a can of Campbell s Pepper Pot soup.
Syrian artists figured prominently in the Dubai auction, with buyers paying record prices for three paintings by the late Fateh Moudarres, including 1994 s The Stray Buraq for $21,600. The 1974 painting Women Sewing by Syria s late Louay Kayali sold for a record $42,000.
Works by Iranian artists reflected the country s tension between modernity and tradition. A photograph by Shadi Ghadirian resembled a formal 19th century portrait, except the seated, chador-clad subject is gripping a can of Pepsi.