The latest destination for the still-high-flying contemporary art market: the Middle East. Paintings, photographs, and sculptures by Iranian and Arab artists hit records this fall at the big auction houses—bringing a total of $12.6 million in a Christie's International sale in Dubai. The top seller: a painting depicting Koranic texts by Egyptian-born Ahmed Moustafa. It went for $657,000, double the pre-auction estimate. At a recent Sotheby's auction in London, a painting of calligraphic Arabic letters by Iranian artist Mohammad Ehsai fetched $217,000—again, twice what experts predicted. Insiders say prices may soon rival those of contemporary Chinese and Indian art, which ring up nine-figure total sales at the two art houses. What's fueling the Mideast art market? Mostly, interest from the newly rich in the artists' home nations, says Sandy Heller, a New York art adviser whose clients include hedge fund manager Steven Cohen of SAC Capital Advisors. "The contemporary art market rises with the luxury goods market," Heller says.
~ BusinessWeek, "A Pretty Penny for Art from the Middle East," December 10, 2007, by Reena Jana