While oil prices are rapidly dropping in global markets, prices in arts auctions have a different story. Iranian paintings, calligraphies and statues are becoming increasingly expensive as they were on sale in international auctions.
file photo, 2007
Previously, it was only the cinema which could bring fame to Iranian artists and filmmaker. Now, the floor is also given to Iranian artwork in auctions such as Christie's which is bound to change the economics of arts in Iran. In the Iranian arts market, no one is any longer surprised by the high prices of these works. Very few people would be astonished about the increasing rise of prices in artwork. In the first Christie's auction which was held in Dubai in May 2005, a painting by Farhad Moshiri and a photo by Shirin Neshat each hit the record of sales among Iranian artwork at a price of $40,000.
In the second auction which was held in February 2006, there were works by Mohammad Ehsai, calligrapher, Parviz Tanavoli, sculptor, and Farhad Moshiri, painter and graphic designer, hit the record of Iranian artwork sale in the world at $102000. In the third Christie's auction on 31st October 2008, Farhad Moshiri earned the highest amount after Ahmad Mustafa, the Egyptian artist. Moshiri's painting received a bid 7 times more than it was initially estimated and was finally sold at $600,000.
In the fourth auction, Iranian works hit the incredible record of $2.5 million and Iran had the highest sale in the fourth Christie's. In this auction, six artworks from Iran stood among the 7 most expensive items on sale. 'Persepolis' sculpted by Parviz Tanavoli, the Iranian sculptor, hit an unprecedented record of $2,500,000 as the most expensive item of this period of Christie's which is also a top first in Christie's history in the Middle East.
Sales for Iranian and Indian artworks of this auction were generally made on the phone from New York, London, Milan, Paris, Geneva, etc but 95% of sales for Arab artwork were done in person. According to figures released by Christie's Auction, 77% of buyers from this auction have been from the Middle East and Iran, 17% from Europe and UK and 6% from the US. In the fifth auction of Christie's on 28th October 2008, in the modern and contemporary category, Mohammad Ehsai's calligraphy painting was sold at $482,500 in a highest sale ever in a Christie's auction in Dubai.
Competition over owning works by renowned artists is a dream of many rich people. Nonetheless, the sale of artworks in Iran has a long history. According to Shahriar Adl, an expert on visual arts, about 500 years ago, before the end of the Timurid era and the beginning of the Safavid period, paintings by Behzad had a large number of buyers. Mughal empires who were contemporaries of Shah Abbas in India were patrons of art and spent lavishly on buying and collecting artworks.
Shahriar Adl says, "Visual arts works from India and China are still among the top sales of auctions. One cannot even say with certainty what kind of works by Iranian artists are sold best and well received by buyers. Although most of the works on sale in these auctions belong to contemporary artists, attention to more traditional works such as calligraphic paintings of Sedaghat Jabbari and Mohammad Ehsai, which are among the most expensive items in these auctions, reveal that buyers are more interested in works rooted in the ancient arts of Iran."
According to Parviz Tanavoli, it is now time for investors to turn their attention to investments in arts rather than the typical investments in properties. Parviz Kalantari is an artist whose clay works have been sold for the first time in Christie's auction. About the impact of these sales on the market of artwork in Iran, he says, "The good thing about inside Iran is that usually the galleries play the role of proxy between the painter and the audience; thus the painter only spends time on the painting. Another important aspect of it is that the artworks of artists inside the country are presented to the world of art globally. This aspect is more important to me. Of course, the economics of art is a very serious matter."
Parviz Tanavoli, the Iranian sculptor whose work titled 'Persepolis' was sold at the highest price in the fourth auction of Christie's in the Middle East, believes that it is still too early for Iran to achieve its rightful place in the global centres of art in the world. He says, "The success of Iranian artists in reputable auctions such as the Christie's will be an important impetus."
The buyer of this artwork is the private Iranian Bank, Pasargad, that bought Mr. Tanavoli's work at $2,000,841. Tanavoli says after his work was presented at Christie's, there was barrage of requests from buyers for his work. He expressed hope that this may be good model for other Iranian banks to invest part of their assets on art instead of buying properties, following the example of European and American banks.
Shadi Ghadirian is an Iranian photographer who pays particular attention to 'Iranian woman' in her works. One of her pictures is the image of a women clad in traditional chador, which has been sold at Christie's. Shadi Ghadirian says, "Right now, in Iran, there are two types of prices for art work: an Iranian price and a foreign price." This means that artists whose work is sold at Christie's auction have some of their works evaluated and sold at a price much lower than the one sold abroad and therefore, naturally, some buyers are after the Iranian price of these works. Shadi Ghadirian speaks about the reason for this waver of interest on Iranian artworks in auctions indicating the point that in the past couple of years, art centres and galleries have multiplied in Dubai, "As these galleries grow in number, so does the art work which goes in display and hence the good market for them. As regards, the rise of art works prices in Iran, I must say I am happy about it. This should have happened."
On the share of the artist from the sold item in auctions, Parviz Tanavoli says, "Usually, a small amount of the price belongs to the artist and creator, even though the item might have been sold by the artist before, but I do not thing this is the case in Iran." In auctions such as Christie's, Phillips and Sotheby's, they rarely deal with an artist personally. All these auctions work more comfortably with galleries. Therefore, a big percentage of the share would also go to the gallery owners." Ghadirian speaks about rumours of deals among gallery owner sellers and sometimes among artists themselves in these auctions. She says, "These kinds of deals have always existed all over the world and in history. This has nothing to do with only Iranian artists and their participation in such auctions in Dubai. This is not only about us, As far as it concerns us, this is a good thing. Either way, it means the rise of prices for Iranian artworks. In the past few periods, they did not ask for any work from me directly. They had taken my work from a collector who had bought the work from me many years ago. Therefore, I had no share in it. However, eventually, as a result of what happened, there was a change in the prices of my other works and this was, anyway, good for me."
Now, as the Iranian art is flourishing in international auctions, gradually markets open up for these works in Iran too. The 'Seven Outlooks', which is a collective gallery by seven well-known Iranian art galleries, launched a real auction in Iran. Following this event, other art institutions such as Saba Cultral and Art Institute and the Ministry of Culture followed suit. Nonetheless, reputation of international auctions is one important factor which may give a new direction to an artist's work.
There are also artists who take advantage of this opportunity for political attention to Iran as the name of Iran is mentioned in the media and they can present a different image of Iran to the world. Here, it is not the oil barrels which have a price fluctuation. After the memorable period of Iranian carpets, it is now time for Iranian paintings and sculptures to create new trade opportunities for Iran.
Saghar Rafiee is a journalist in Iran
About Mianeh: Mianeh is a new independent web-based initiative run as a project by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting (iwpr.net) the award-winning non-profit media development organisation that works across the globe to platform local voices and promote international learning and engagement. Mianeh aims to be an open space for ideas, news and debate where writers in Iran can reach out to each other as well as to those outside the country who are interested in learning more about the vibrant and dynamic society that is Iran today.
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