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Mehdi Mirbagheri

Soody Sharifi

Vahid Sharifian

Parviz Kalantari

Parviz Kalantari

Shirin Nesha

Ahmed Mater

Art Market Watch

Aug. 15, 2011 

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Christie’s held its first contemporary Middle Eastern sale in Dubai in 2006, and since then interest in art from the Middle East has become something of an international phenomenon. Last year, the auction house took in $29 million in its Dubai auction room, more than double the total for 2009.

A quick perusal of the new sale on Artnet Auctions of Middle Eastern Art, Aug. 11-18, 2011, shows plenty of evidence that contemporary artists from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other countries in the region are as interested in pushing political boundaries -- and finding between the resolutely modern and their native traditions -- as they are in building market share. 

A print by the Iranian artist Mirbagheri Mehdi (b. 1980), for instance, shows a black-and-gray floral-printed chador concealing a face made up almost garishly in the Western style, while for Twin Towers, 2010, Soody Sharifi (b. 1955), an Iranian-American who lives in Houston, collages an image of 9/11 into a Persian miniature, set on a very modernist monochrome.

The sale is organized by Nazy Nazhand, the founder of Art Middle East, which works with emerging Middle Eastern artists in a global context.

The top lot in the sale is a collection of 23 fantastical self-portrait photographs by the Iranian artist Vahid Sharifian (b. 1982). Called Queen of the Jungle (If I Had a Gun), 2007-08, the series depicts the Tehran-based artist sporting an afro and typically nothing else in a series of absurdist encounters with wild animals. In one shot, Sharifian runs from a stampede of reindeer through a sterile, stainless-steel kitchen that looks almost like an architectural rendering. In another, he boxes a bucking black stallion while wearing gauzy underpants. The group of photographs is estimated at $30,000-$40,000, with bidding starting at $22,000.

Sharifian’s career has taken off in recent years, as he’s held shows at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, the Chelsea Art Museum and the Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art in Copenhagen, and is featured in the forthcoming book 100 New Artists from Laurence King Publishing. The Artnet sale also includes two Sharifian sculptures, Talk to Me, 2008, a pink wooden birdcage housing a taxidermied parrot perched astide a plaster penis, estimated at $4,000-$6,000, and Last Samurai (from Last Part), 2009, a ceramic samurai flanked by two blonde strippers for $3,000-$4,000.

Another Iranian artist, the celebrated painter Parviz Kalantari (b. 1931), contributes a major highlight of the sale, the large-scale (ca. 51 x 99 in.) Untitled (2009). In this abstract geometric view of a rural desert town, the artist captures the unique mud-brick architecture of the area by layering mud, straw and soil -- in addition to paint -- atop the canvas. The presale estimate is $22,000-$30,000, and the bidding starts at $20,000.

Other highlights include a signed and dated C-print, I am its Secret, 1993, by Shirin Neshat (b. 1957) from her popular edition of 250, a classic example of the artist’s well-known portraiture of veiled women with faces overlaid with Persian calligraphy, the basis of what became her “Women of Allah” series. The print is estimated at $15,000-$20,000.

Another prominently political work in the sale is by the Saudi Arabian artist Ahmed Mater (b. 1979), whose Evolution of Man, 2010, is an x-ray print of a gas pump that morphs via five Darwin-style stages into a skeleton of a man pointing a gun to his head. A serigraph in an edition of 100, the print carries a presale estimate of $3,500-$4,500; a light-box version of the work, in an edition of eight, sold at Christie’s Dubai in April for $98,500.

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