Christie's wary of tough auction season

Christie’s auction season in Dubai has opened on a slightly weak note, mirroring economic sentiment in the region.

The auction house said that only 85 per cent of watches were sold on Tuesday night, with sales coming in at the low end of its range at US$2.68 million.

The performance was “a slight slip” according to Jussi Pylkkänen, Christie’s global president. At the previous sale in October, 96 per cent of watches were sold, realising $3.42m.

“We have found in the past eight months there has been a polarisation in the art market,” Mr Pylkkänen said. “There has been a rush to the best examples of everything.”

He said that when interest rates are low people look for other vehicles to invest in, and art is like gold, where there might be an adjustment, but there is always an inherent value.

“A Picasso will always be a Picasso. However, this is not just a regional movement. When we opened in Dubai 10 years ago it was an outpost. Now it is a marker for what we expect in New York and London.”

Christie’s modern and contemporary art auction – “Now and Ten” – last night was to feature a stand-out piece, Sarajevo. The 10-metre long and three-metre high oil on canvas painting by the Egyptian artist Omar El Nagdi was expected to fetch between Dh1.5m and Dh2.2m.

While Christie’s has seen the art market grow exponentially from just six galleries in the city when it arrived, some of the UAE’s galleries find the current climate a tough one to finalise sales, when many customers are looking for discounts.

“It is a difficult time for sales right now, although we have sold five pieces this month,” said Roxana Stefan, operations manager for N2N Gallery, which has two galleries in Abu Dhabi’s Al Ain Tower and Nation Towers selling mostly European art.

“Art is still a luxury, it is not a necessity. So the climate is not good for the market.

“We are still to find what Abu Dhabi residents want and a lot demand discounts of 60 to 70 per cent, which, of course, is totally unreasonable and infeasible for the artist and ourselves.”

The market is growing but it is very slow growth and all sales have to be worked for, Ms Stefan said.

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