International bidders prove Mideast art is all the rage at Christie’s London auction

International bidders prove Mideast art is all the rage at Christie’s London auction
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Jewad Selim’s ‘The watermelon seller, 1953.’
International bidders prove Mideast art is all the rage at Christie’s London auction
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Christie's Louise Broadhurst, Director Oriental Rugs & Carpets.
International bidders prove Mideast art is all the rage at Christie’s London auction
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Safwan Dahoul's 'Reve.'
International bidders prove Mideast art is all the rage at Christie’s London auction
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Christie's showcased some fascinating pieces.
International bidders prove Mideast art is all the rage at Christie’s London auction
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A gallery of Indian and Islamic art was also on show.
Updated 29 October 2017

International bidders prove Mideast art is all the rage at Christie’s London auction

International bidders prove Mideast art is all the rage at Christie’s London auction

LONDON: Christie’s decision to hold its autumn sale of Middle Eastern Modern and Contemporary Art in London for the first time was greeted with an enthusiastic reception by art lovers who competed to buy the most coveted pieces in the auction held on Oct. 25. The traditional March sale week will continue to take place in Dubai and will occur during the Dubai Art Season.
Registered bidders from 23 countries confirmed the international appetite for works from the region. The sale was led by a world auction record for the Iraqi artist Jewad Selim, whose painting “The Watermelon Seller” sold for $876,73, more than double its high estimate of $328,150.
Another highlight was Mahmoud Sabri’s “Grief,” which sold for $876,731, more than ten times its high estimate of $78,756 and a new world auction record for the artist.
The Emirati artist Abdul Qader Al-Rais donated two paintings, “The Dream” ($81,938) and “Untitled” ($81,938) with proceeds from the sale benefitting the Emirates Red Crescent Authority.
Arab News spoke to Michael Jeha, deputy chairman and managing director for Christie’s in the Middle East, who explained that demand for Middle Eastern art is increasing globally.
“We are seeing more and more collectors and institutions from around the world participating in Middle Eastern art sales. It’s moving up and the market is becoming more mature. Established collectors from the Middle East particularly are now extremely knowledgeable about the art; they ask a lot more questions and are all focusing on a narrower group of artists than five years ago.
“In Saudi Arabia, and Jeddah in particular, you can sense there is an increasing appetite for art – there are more galleries opening up and you have the 2139 initiatives – more and more patrons and foundations being set up,” he said.
The sale comprised approximately 60 works, mostly consigned by private collectors and led by and important group of works by Egyptian artists, highlighted by their recognized master Mahmoud Said (1897-1964).
Mahmoud Said’s portrait “Hanem” sold for $420,503 alongside his second version of “La Fille aux Yeux Verts,” which was sold for $229,425.
It was fascinating to listen to Christie’s experts talking about the paintings.
Hala Khayat, head of Sale for Middle Eastern Art, Christie’s, based in Dubai, told an intriguing story about a controversy that arose over Mahmoud Said’s “La Fille aux Yeux Verts.” When Christie’s first put this painting up for auction several years ago, the sale was stopped because it was thought to be a stolen work. As it happens, all was above board.
The recently published catalogue raisonné of Mahmoud Saod, co-written by Valerie Hess from Christie’s, revealed that he painted two versions of the piece. One was painted in 1931 and is still part of the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in Cairo. He painted another version in 1932, “La Fille aux Yeux Verts (réplique),” originally in the collection of Charles Terrasse, the first director of the Museum of Modern Art in Cairo. That version was put up for sale by Christie’s.
Khayat explained that Said was from an upper class aristocratic family. His father was the Prime Minister of Egypt. He was a lawyer by profession but his real passion was art.
“His mind and soul were in painting and exploring the Egyptian identity. We refer to him as the father of all modernists in the Arab world because, very early on, he started to look at the people of the land and to paint them with their traditional look. The painting “Hanem” depicts a woman sitting in her house wearing her turban. This representation was something new as prior to this you wouldn’t have seen women depicted in this way — they would have been shown wearing their jewelry sitting in a Western style,” she said.
Two striking works in the sale were by the Syrian artist Safwan Dahoul who had to leave his country due to the war and is now based in Dubai. Khayat, when asked if the woman in the painting “Reve” was the artist’s late wife, who died of cancer, said Dahoul has said that he does not consciously set out to paint her image but that she always comes to his mind.
Khayat, who is Syrian, was taught by Dahoul
“I grew up in Damascus and he was one of my teachers at university,” she explained.
Khayat gave some insights into the artist Jewad Selim whose “Watermelon Seller” proved to be a highlight of the sale, selling for double its estimate.
“Jewad Selim died very young in his 40s. He was one of the first artists who on returning to Iraq after studying in Italy and London tried to come up with an Iraqi identity. He looked to the colors of Mesopotamia and used simple forms. He was one of the first artists to exhibit in the US. His work is extremely rare; in my eleven years with Christie’s we have managed to sell just one small painting and one small sculpture,” she said.
Painted in 1953, the painting combines Selim’s inspiration from his Eastern tradition and Western influences obtained when studying in Paris, London and Rome. The watermelon represents modern Iraq, the land of the two rivers, with its intersection of the Tigris and Euphrates and hints to the novelty of modern Iraq. The composition is rendered in shapes and the crescent shape is taking a leading role in representing the watermelon slices, an association to the fertile crescent of the Middle Eastern region, which is historically considered as the cradle of civilization.
The Middle Eastern art was exhibited alongside the works sold at the Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds’ auction on Oct. 26.
Khayat commented: “I love the juxtaposition with the Islamic and Indian Art week — it is like a dialogue.”
She noted how, for example, the work of contemporary artist Reza Derakhshani echoed the traditions embodied in the fine paintings in the adjoining rooms.
Sara Plumbly, head of the department of Islamic and Indian Art, gave Arab News a tour of some of artworks in the sale.
She encouraged us to look closely at a portrait of Safdar Khan, attributed to Bichitr, Mughal, India, circa 1635-40, in order to fully appreciate the exquisite detail and coloring.
Some beautiful carpets were featured in the sale too. Christie’s Oriental Rugs and Carpets expert, Louise Broadhurst, was on hand to explain some of the distinctive features which indicate quality and authenticity. She helped us to understand the qualities of a West Anatolian Ghirlandaio rug of the late 17th century.
“Tonal changes in the color signify a natural dyed carpet. Each time a new batch of dye was made it would be of a different consistency which is why you get this natural change of color which you don’t get in a synthetic dye from a bottle which is always of the same consistency.
“These are the kind of ‘fingerprints’ we are looking for in hand woven carpets — these types of irregularities. Some colors are particularly sought after by collectors — for example, the color aubergine — which was a rare plant.
“Browns were woven from fungi and mushroom bark — these dyes have a natural corrosive element within them — so when you run your hand over the surface of a 16th or 17th century carpet you will feel a relief effect happening from this natural corrosion. Reds also corroded. Blues and greens are stronger due to the natural preservative in the dye which keeps the colors looking better for longer.
“We want to be assured that the carpet hasn’t been re-piled or overly restored,” she said.
The way the artworks were presented in the pre-sale exhibitions greatly added to the excitement around the auctions. Having the experts on hand to share their special knowledge helped bring the works to life and added to the appreciation of the rich cultures of the respective regions.


Amy Poehler’s high-school comedy ‘Moxie’ calls out toxic masculinity

‘Moxie’ is now streaming on Netflix. Supplied
‘Moxie’ is now streaming on Netflix. Supplied
Updated 07 March 2021

Amy Poehler’s high-school comedy ‘Moxie’ calls out toxic masculinity

‘Moxie’ is now streaming on Netflix. Supplied

LONDON: There were many things to love about “Parks and Recreation” – but one of the most obvious was that it starred, unusually, an eternally upbeat, yet likeable protagonist. So perhaps it’s no surprise that Amy Poehler, who played the irrepressible Leslie Knope in “Parks & Rec,” and the “cool mom” in cult classic “Mean Girls,” brings a similar positivity to Netflix high-school comedy “Moxie,” which marks her second directorial outing.

Vivian Carter (Hadley Robinson) is a smart, switched-on student who already longs to leave behind her clique-y high school for what she believes will be the more mature world of college. Vivian flies under the radar, keeping her head down and letting the inequality of high school pass her by. After all, why fight a system that can’t be changed, right?

Well, not quite. When new student Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña) draws the unwanted attention of stereotypically obnoxious jock Mitchell Wilson (Patrick Schwarzenegger), something shifts for Vivian. Spurred on by her mother’s rebellious past, Vivian starts a zine – Moxie. In the pages of the guerrilla pamphlet, she calls out the toxic, chauvinistic masculinity that permeates the school, and lambasts the authorities (typified by the spineless principal Shelly, who just wants everyone to get along and not generate any paperwork). Before you know it, the Moxie movement has swept across the campus, drawing support — and no shortage of ire.

It’s a curious mix of feel-good empowerment, cutesy teen film, and stirring call-to-action. Supplied

Poehler is a gifted comic actress — and her cameo as Vivian’s mum gives her a couple of the movie’s funniest moments vv but from the director’s chair, she opts to dial back the laughs somewhat. There are some smile-inducing moments, and the movie deftly flits from teenage angst to meet-cute and back again. What’s more (and to Poehler’s credit), “Moxie” doesn’t linger on the stereotypical beats of a teen rom-com, but nor does it shy away from highlighting the darker, seedier underbelly of the high-school system in the US. It’s a curious mix of feel-good empowerment, cutesy teen film, and stirring call-to-action. Much like it’s lead character, “Moxie” is difficult to define, but easy to like.


Osama bin Laden son takes up painting

Osama bin Laden son takes up painting
Updated 06 March 2021

Osama bin Laden son takes up painting

Osama bin Laden son takes up painting
  • Omar’s works include landscapes of the mountains of Tora Bora in Afghanistan
  • His creations including vivid depictions of the US, a country he has never visited

LONDON: Osama bin Laden’s son Omar has reportedly taken up painting as a method of coping with lockdowns introduced to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Omar, the 39-year-old fourth son of the former Al-Qaeda leader, lives in Normandy in northern France with his wife Zaina, a painter from Cheshire in the UK.
His creations including vivid depictions of the US, a country he has never visited and against which his father waged a terrorist insurgency for many years, including the 9/11 attacks, culminating in his assassination in 2011.
Omar’s works also include landscapes of the mountains of Tora Bora in Afghanistan, where his father hid from US forces for many years.
He told Vice News that he had suffered for many years with post-traumatic stress disorder, following a childhood that saw him uprooted from his family home outside Jeddah to resettle in Sudan and war-torn Afghanistan as his father pursued his campaigns.
Omar later rejected his father and left Afghanistan following his experiences of the conflict there.
“I want the world to learn that I have grown; that I am comfortable within myself for the first time in my life; that the past is the past and one must learn to live with what has gone by,” he said. “One must forgive if not forget, so that one may be at peace with one’s emotions.”


Drake shows love for Dubai’s royal family in latest track

Drake dropped a new EP over the weekend. File/Instagram
Drake dropped a new EP over the weekend. File/Instagram
Updated 06 March 2021

Drake shows love for Dubai’s royal family in latest track

Drake dropped a new EP over the weekend. File/Instagram

DUBAI: Drake’s love for Dubai is no secret. In fact, the Toronto native, who has visited the city on multiple occasions, has been quite vocal about his admiration by way of Instagram photos and song lyrics, including a line in “Free Smoke,” from his 2017 album “More Life”: “I want to move to Dubai, so I don’t never have to kick it with none of you guys.”

He also namedrops the UAE city in “Sacrifices” featuring Young Thug, in which he states “I got Dubai plates in the California state.”

The Canadian superstar also developed close friendships with UAE royals Sheikh Mansoor and Sheikh Hamdan Al-Maktoum, the sons of the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.

The friendship continued to blossom, and the rapper has decided to give a shout out to his friends in a new track, which he dropped this weekend as part of his “Scary Hours 2” EP.

In the song “Lemon Pepper Freestyle” featuring Rick Ross, Drake refers to the Dubai princes as his family.

“And that’s facts, Hamdan Mohammed like my third cousin (Facts)/Mansoor Mohammed like my real brother (Facts)/Dubai embrace me like a Emirati (Facts),” he raps over the moody instrumental.

It’s not the first time that the Grammy award-winning artist has hinted at his ties with the royals. In a 2015 Instagram post from his visit to Dubai, he admitted to looking like Sheikh Mansoor, jokingly stating that he was his “long lost brother.”


REVIEW: ‘Biggie: I Got A Story To Tell’ offers rare insight into murdered rappers life

REVIEW: ‘Biggie: I Got A Story To Tell’ offers rare insight into murdered rappers life
Updated 05 March 2021

REVIEW: ‘Biggie: I Got A Story To Tell’ offers rare insight into murdered rappers life

REVIEW: ‘Biggie: I Got A Story To Tell’ offers rare insight into murdered rappers life
  • Netflix documentary glosses over much, but is a must-see for hip-hop fans

LONDON: Christopher Wallace — better known the world over as The Notorious B.I.G. — would have turned 50 this year, and this intimate character portrait from director Emmett Malloy spends a lot of time reflecting on the promise and potential he had, even beyond his existing legacy and influence on the course of hip-hop history. 

“Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell” was made in partnership with Wallace’s estate, so it’s no great surprise that there’s a tremendous amount of love emanating from its contributors, including Biggie’s mother and grandmother, childhood friends, Sean Combs (aka P. Diddy, who signed Biggie to his Bad Boy Records label in 1993 and released his debut album ‘Ready To Die’ the following year), music producer Mark Pitts and many others.

“Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell” was made in partnership with Wallace’s estate. (Supplied)

As a result, “I Got a Story to Tell” is a far-from-impartial recounting of the rap star’s meteoric career trajectory, and huge swathes of Wallace’s life are given only a brief mention, at most, and then rarely referenced again. His rivalry with Tupac Shakur and his part in the larger East versus West Coast feud are given short shrift, for example; his marriage to Faith Evans is addressed only in archive footage; while his early relationship with rapper Lil’ Kim is totally eradicated from the story that’s told.

Malloy seeks to redress the balance somewhat by including frank discussion of some of Wallace’s less glamorous history, including his role in the Brooklyn crack-cocaine hierarchy. But it’s no surprise that far more screen time is given to extolling Biggie’s virtues than critiquing his flaws — after all, his mother serves as one of the documentary’s producers, and presumably held sway over what was covered and what was off-limits. Similarly, Combs (who is also a producer) spends far more time championing what a star Wallace was than addressing much of the controversy that has become synonymous with Biggie’s career, and his death.

There is an air of celebration about this film — and perhaps that was always the intention. Through incredible archive footage and home recordings, there’s rarely-glimpsed insight into Wallace’s talent: Seeing him battle during a legendary Brooklyn block party, or hearing his friend (and jazz musician) Donald Harrison highlight the origins of his snare-drum-like rap style is simply wonderful. “I Got a Story to Tell” may not paint the full picture, but it’s no less enthralling as a result.


Winston Churchill, Angelina Jolie and an $11.5 million painting of Morocco: Exploring the fascinating story behind this week’s biggest art news

Winston Churchill, Angelina Jolie and an $11.5 million painting of Morocco: Exploring the fascinating story behind this week’s biggest art news
Updated 04 March 2021

Winston Churchill, Angelina Jolie and an $11.5 million painting of Morocco: Exploring the fascinating story behind this week’s biggest art news

Winston Churchill, Angelina Jolie and an $11.5 million painting of Morocco: Exploring the fascinating story behind this week’s biggest art news

DUBAI: “Happy are the painters, for they are never alone.”

While many of us could mistake this famous quote for a comment by countless artists, you may be surprised to learn it was said by none other than  Britain’s wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, whose passion for painting recently made headlines around the world.

Earlier this week, a painting of Marrakesh by the famed World War Two politician, who died in 1965 at the age of 90, smashed expectations and sold for a staggering $11.5 million at auction in London.

“The Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque,” which was owned by Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, was painted by Churchill during a wartime visit in 1943.

“The Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque” was painted by Churchill during a World War II visit in 1943. (AFP)

And while securing the allies victory against Nazi Germany may have been all-consuming, Churchill found snippets of time to pursue his passion for art after realizing his love for painting at 40 years old.

He was first introduced to painting during a family holiday in 1915 after his sudden fall from grace over his role in the disastrous Dardanelles naval campaign against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Churchill, who served as the First Lord of the Admiralty during the campaign, hoped that this new skill would distract him from the ongoing strife engulfing Europe. 

For the artist-cum-politician, who completed an impressive 500 artworks, painting was a hobby; he did to unwind and gifted most of his works to friends. 

And while Churchill painted a varied array of landscapes, from quaint English country scenes to the immense cliffs near Marseilles in France, his depictions of Morocco feature among his most exotic paintings.

A museum employee poses next to a painting by Winston Churchill entitled “Gate at Marrakech, man on donkey” at Leighton House Museum in west London. (AFP)

His passion for the translucent light of Marrakesh, far from the political storms and drab skies of London, dates back to the 1930s when most of Morocco was a French protectorate.

Churchill’s first painting of Morocco was completed in 1935. Titled “Scene in Marrakesh,” it is set to be auctioned by Christie’s later this year.

The work was painted while on a stay at Mamounia, where he marveled at the “truly remarkable panorama over the tops of orange trees and olives,” in a letter to his wife Clementine.

He went on to make six visits to the North African country over the course of 23 years.

Christies auction house staff pose with a painting by Winston Churchill entitled “A view of Marrakesh” in London. (AFP)

“Here in these spacious palm groves rising from the desert the traveler can be sure of perennial sunshine... and can contemplate with ceaseless satisfaction the stately and snow-clad panorama of the Atlas Mountains,” he wrote in 1936 in the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper.

He would set up his easel on the balconies of the grandiose La Mamounia hotel or the city’s Villa Taylor, beloved by the European jet setters of the 1970s.

It was from the villa, after a historic January 1943 conference in Casablanca with wartime leader US president Franklin Roosevelt and France’s Charles de Gaulle, that he painted what came to be regarded as his finest work, of the minaret behind the ramparts of the Old City, with mountains behind and tiny colorful figures in the forefront.

A Sotheby’s auction house employee poses with a rare painting entitled “Churchill’s Marrakech” by Winston Churchill, at the auction house in London. (AFP)

“You cannot come all this way to North Africa without seeing Marrakesh,” he is reputed to have told Roosevelt. “I must be with you when you see the sun set on the Atlas Mountains.”

After the US delegation had left, Churchill stayed on an extra day and painted the view of the Koutoubia Mosque framed by mountains — he then sent it to Roosevelt for his birthday.

What makes “The Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque” so special is the fact that it was the only artwork he completed during World War II. 

However, it should be noted that Morocco was not the only Arab country Churchill painted. In 1921, he painted the Pyramids at Giza when he visited Egypt as Secretary of State for the Colonies for the Cairo Conference.

What makes this week’s whopping sale even more interesting, however, is the star power lent by Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, who owned the piece before putting it up for auction.

The artwork had several owners before Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt bought it in 2011.

Jolie’s former husband Brad Pitt is known to be an art collector and during their 2014-16 marriage the pair bought some notable works, including pieces by Banksy and Neo Rauch.

The London-based auction house Christie’s told CNN that the Maleficent actress, 45, listed the artwork as property of the “Jolie Family Collection,” while US Weekly reported that it was a gift from Pitt to Jolie prior to their enagement.

The couple separated in 2016 and have spent years enmeshed in divorce proceedings, amid speculation about the division of their extensive art collection. They were declared divorced in 2019 after their lawyers asked for a bifurcated judgment, meaning that two married people can be declared single while other issues, including finances and child custody, remain.

While Churchill’s painting of Marrakesh may no longer adorn Jolie’s walls, the sun-drenched piece will no doubt be appreciated elsewhere — at $11.5 million, we certainly hope so.