You are organising an exhibition in early October in Doha – in a nutshell, what is it about?
Christie’s is delighted to be part of the celebration Doha is staging as the Capital of Arab Culture 2010. We are bringing a total of 40 paintings to Doha, comprised in parts from the Dr Mohammed Said Farsi collection – he was the first Lord Mayor of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, and one of the region’s great patrons of visual arts. We will also be bringing the Lost Collection and other Middle Eastern highlights.
Where are the paintings from, and what can people expect to see?
Dr Farsi’s private collection is recognised as the most comprehensive group of modern Egyptian art in private hands. It includes paintings by many of Egypt’s most famous 20th century artists, such as Mahmoud Said, Ragheb Ayad, Abul Hadi El-Gazzar, Hamed Nada, Seif and Adham Wanly, and Adam Henein. The highlight here is The Whirling Dervishes, a spectacular early work from 1929 by Mahmoud Said. It shows six Mawlawi dervishes, each identically clad and with similar features, but with subtly different postures, performing a Sema dance.
You mentioned the Lost Collection. What is that?
The Lost Collection is perhaps one of the most significant holdings of modern Iranian art in private hands. Its name is a reference to its previous obscurity, and it will be seen for the first time in Doha. It includes a total of 30 works by significant Persian artists from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, including Faramarz Pilaram, Parviz Tanavoli, Charles Hossein Zenderoudi and Sohrab Sepehri. Most of these works have been purchased directly from the artists in Tehran by the anonymous owners of the collection.
Is there a value you can put on this collection currently?
The value of the individual works varies from US$15,000-$350,000. There seems to be a growing interest in Middle Eastern art.
Why do you think that is?
The interest in Middle Eastern art has today an international outreach, and collectors from around the world demonstrate their interest in the art from this region. Over the last five years, awareness and appetite for Middle Eastern art has increased significantly. This can be seen by the increasing numbers of galleries settling in the region, art fairs being held here, and the important museum projects being built in Abu Dhabi and also here in Doha.
What is it these particular paintings tell us about Arabic culture?
It’s a wide variety of paintings we are bringing, so it demonstrates more than one thing. The breadth and quality of Arab art is something we’ve always been keen to showcase. On one hand, we have 20th century masterpieces of Egyptian art, showing the long development of top class modern art in that most populous Arab country, collected by a passionate Saudi enthusiast. On the other, we have a group of works by the famous Lebanese artist Chafic Abboud and Paul Guiragossian, showing their eye for colour and taste for abstraction.
Are there any big differences you can see, generally, between Middle Eastern and Western art?
Some Middle Eastern artists engage with themes specific to the region – calligraphy, dress, surroundings and political themes. Others are artists first and of Middle Eastern origin second. Contemporary artists with roots in both East and West sometimes express this hybridity in their art. There is no definitive answer, and that factor makes this field exciting for those who follow it.
What is it you hope people will take away from the exhibition?
We hope to have brought to Doha a selection of works of art which most probably have not been seen before in Qatar, and that visitors who come to view the exhibition can enjoy and possibly be influenced by. Holding this exhibition, we also hope to have added an interesting event to the festivities marking the celebration of Qatar as the Capital of Arab Culture 2010.
What will happen to the paintings after Doha?
After the exhibition, the paintings will be shipped to Dubai, where they will be on public view before being offered for sale.
Christie’s set up a Middle East office in 2005. Why a growing interest in the region?
As the first international auction house to have established a permanent presence in the Gulf, Christie’s has become pivotal in the international development of the thriving Middle Eastern art scene. While Dubai is the hub for our Middle Eastern operations, Christie’s retains a decisively expansive outlook towards the region as a whole.
The Christie’s Modern Arabic Art Exhibition will be held at the Four Seasons Doha from October 4-5.