Sotheby’s first online-only auction for 20th century Middle Eastern art defies COVID-19 to net $2.6m

Bahman Mohasses, Tiresias didn't know much about the Future, 1970, oil on canvas (est. £120,000-180,000). (Supplied)
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Updated 02 April 2020

Sotheby’s first online-only auction for 20th century Middle Eastern art defies COVID-19 to net $2.6m

  • Success of auction house’s category sale signals hope for sector, confidence in ME art amid virus pandemic

DUBAI: A month ago, no one would have imagined that their existence would soon be relegated to the place that they call home.

The world has had to learn a lot, and fast. When it comes to the art market, auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s have proved that the business sector can still operate, albeit remotely, if absolutely necessary.




Mohamed Melehi, The Blacks, 1963 (est. £55,000-65,000). (Supplied)

That proof came from the first-ever online-only auction for modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art, which totaled $2,679,294, well above pre-sale predictions and with 60 percent of lots exceeding their top-price estimates.

After the British government’s March 23 order for citizens to stay at home over the COVID-19 outbreak, Sotheby’s sale of 20th century Middle Eastern art had to convert into an online auction. Bids opened on March 27 and closed on March 31.




Abed Abdi, Don Quichotte riding neither a donky nor a horse, oil on board, 1967 (est. £12,000-18,000). (Supplied)

“What our online sale has shown is that the market for Middle Eastern art is undeniably strong and resilient – a huge vote of confidence in the market,” said Sotheby’s co-head of sale, Mai Eldib.

The top lot, a dynamic painting by Morocco’s modern master Mohamed Melehi inspired by the cityscape of New York yet rendered with the oriental richness of the artist’ homeland, sold for $487,339, almost seven times its estimate and a record sale for the artist.




Afifa Aleiby, Summer Day, 2005, oil on canvas (est. £18,000-22,000). (Supplied)

Other highlights included Moroccan artist Farid Belkahia, whose “Jerusalem,” a mixed media work dated to around the 1980s, more than doubled its estimate to bring in $244,280.

A work from 1990 by Algerian artist Mahyeddine Baya (1931-1998), who was known for inspiring Pablo Picasso during her youth in France, also sold for way over its forecasted sale price.

Of note was a grouping of works by Palestinian artists led by Abed Abdi whose 1967 painting, “Don Quichotte Riding Neither a Donkey nor a Horse,” sold for $17,000, again beating its pre-sale tag of $14,890. Other artists in the Palestine group included Laila Shawa, Jumana El-Husseini, Abdul Hay Mosallam Zarara, Sliman Mansour and Asim Abu Shakra.




Baya, Untitled, 1990, watercolour, gouache and pencil on paper (est. £8,000-12,000). (Supplied)

“I believe that in such challenging times collectors are now investing in solid material and what is better than to invest in modern art?” said Palestinian collector George Al’ama, who gave six works by Palestinian artists, five of which sold.

“The success of these works gives a very optimistic message to Palestinian artists and the entire Middle Eastern art scene during such tumultuous times.”

According to statistics released by Sotheby’s, nearly 30 percent of bidders in the sale were under 40 years old. There was also a 46 percent increase in the number of bidders in respect to the same sale last year. Another promising sign was that 35 percent of bidders were new to Sotheby’s.




Naim Ismail, Untitled, 1960, oil on canvas (est. £12,000-18,000). (Supplied)

“As to what will happen in the future, it is too soon to speak of trends, but already in the past few weeks we have witnessed new models of engagement and commerce come to the fore in a big way, and we should see a concrete shift in the popularity of online bidding,” added Eldib. 

Will online bidding be the new way forward? “It is already the most popular way to bid at Sotheby’s, but we are seeing a wave in new online participants and perhaps this will be established as the norm,” she added.


Johnny Depp denies ‘wife-beater’ claim in London libel trial

Updated 07 July 2020

Johnny Depp denies ‘wife-beater’ claim in London libel trial

  • The high-profile case has laid bare Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s turbulent relationship, which ended in divorce in 2017
  • The couple first met on the set of the 2011 film ‘The Rum Diary’ and married in 2015

LONDON: Hollywood actor Johnny Depp strenuously denied being violent to his ex-wife Amber Heard, as he launched a libel claim in a London court on Tuesday against a British tabloid newspaper that called him a “wife-beater.”
The “Pirates of the Caribbean” star, 57, is suing the publishers of The Sun and the author of the article for the claims, which were made in April 2018.
Depp, wearing a dark suit, white shirt and facemask, was met by a throng of cameras as he arrived at court while Heard, a 34-year-old actress, used a separate entrance.
The high-profile case has laid bare the couple’s turbulent relationship, which ended in divorce in 2017, just two years after they married.
But Depp said in a witness statement submitted to the court: “For the avoidance of any doubt, I have never abused Ms Heard, or, indeed any other woman, in my life.”
He said it was a “strong and central part” of his moral code that he would never hit a woman, having witnessed domestic violence growing up and vowed never to do so.
“I find it simply inconceivable and it would never happen,” he added.
“She (Heard) is a calculating, diagnosed borderline personality; she is sociopathic; she is a narcissist; and she is completely emotionally dishonest,” he went on.
“I am now convinced that she came into my life to take from me anything worth taking, and then destroy what remained of it.
The couple first met on the set of the 2011 film “The Rum Diary” and married in 2015.
News Group Newspapers (NGN) is contesting the case, and is relying for its defense on 14 separate claims of domestic violence said to have occurred between early 2013 and May 2016.
It argues Depp was “controlling and verbally and physically abusive toward Ms Heard, particularly when he was under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs” — and has evidence to prove it.
But Depp said it was the other way round, accusing Heard of violence against him during their “unhappy” time together.
In one alleged incident, he said she repeatedly punched him in the face, and in another severed his finger with a flying vodka bottle and stubbed out a cigarette on his cheek.
Heard has claimed she was physically assaulted over three days in Australia in early 2015 but Depp called the allegations “sick... and completely untrue.”
He rejected claims of being overbearing and instead said Heard had an “obsessive need” to control him, encouraging him to drink and take drugs, despite his well-known addiction issues.
Depp’s lawyers, in a written outline of his case to the court, also argued that although the couple’s relationship was at times “physical,” it was at Heard’s instigation.
Lawyer David Sherborne said his client on occasions had to defend himself from Heard’s violence, calling her allegations “complete lies.”
“He is not a wife-beater and never has been,” he said.
Heard was a “complex individual,” whose behavior was “extremely unpredictable,” with violent rages and prone to extreme mood swings, he added.
She sought attention, was provocative, had affairs, and was on a “wide range” of prescribed medication and other drugs.
Depp loved her but found her behavior “often bewildering” and “very difficult” to understand or deal with, he added.
Depp was the first witness called in the case and under cross-examination admitted using drugs and alcohol from a young age to “numb the pain” of a difficult childhood.
But he rejected suggestions from NGN lawyer Sasha Wass he had a “nasty side,” that saw him turn into a “monster” who would lose control, smash up hotel rooms and assault photographers.
“It wasn’t Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde,” he insisted.
The Sun story — “Gone Potty: How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beast film?” — came after he had already publicly denied domestic violence.
Depp said he had suffered “significant reputational damage” as a result, both in terms of his career and personally.
The High Court trial is due to last three weeks.