Dubai art auctions draw bargain hunters as crisis hits

Tue May 5, 2009 3:21am EDT
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By Tamara Walid

DUBAI (Reuters) - Art buyers from across the Middle East crowded Christie's auction room in Dubai, bidding briskly to bag a bargain as prices fall in the global downturn.

A painting sale, marking the start of the region's auction season for Christie's International, fetched $4.7 million last week, within estimates that were sharply lowered this year.

By comparison, Christie's raised $8.65 million from its last auction in October, only half its estimate at the time.

Prices of Middle East art works at auctions in the young Dubai market boomed in the past two years, driven by speculators, experts say. But auction houses have suffered as the financial crisis hit the Gulf Arab trade and tourism hub, reducing the appetite for luxury goods including art.

In November, Bonhams, another global auction house, raised $2.8 million, far below its pre-sale estimate of $12 million.

"Prices have gone down of course because there's a crisis, but what's important is that people are buying, which shows that interest in Middle Eastern art is still firm," said Saleh Barakat, owner of an art gallery in Beirut who sold a number of pieces at the auction last week.

Michael Jeha, managing director of Christie's Middle East, told Reuters it was now "definitely a buyer's market."

The auction saw 150 works by artists from the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey and a few from the West up for sale, including, for the first time, pieces by Saudi artists.   Continued...