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The Art of the Matter

A new generation of art buyers is driving the regional market, says Christie's Hala Khayat

31 Mar 2014, words by Jola Chudy in The Lifestyle

Regional art is in the midst of an Arabian Renaissance: the works of emerging artists have populated the global arts scene like never before while the paintings, sculptures and installations of artists active in the latter part of the last century are being voraciously rediscovered by a new wave of cultural connoisseurs - with soaring price tags to match their popularity. Antiquities from the Gulf and surrounding areas - Iran in particular - are more prized than ever before. This reemergence of Mid-Eastern art is not just something that's happening here in the UAE - it's a global phenomenon. Indisputably, buyers from the region are helping to drive this growth: nearly ten per cent ($456m) of Christie's annual turnover last year came from Middle Eastern buyers.

A tour de force at the epicentre of this artistic tsunami is Hala Khayat, Christie's specialist in contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish art and their regional spokesperson. Khayat oversees evaluating, pricing and researching art works, writing essays, overseeing catalogue production and producing condition reports for the art. The renowned auction house has been holding sales in Dubai since 2006, explains Khayat.

"Our Dubai office actually opened in 2005, and today Dubai has become a key selling centre on the international auction calendar. Christie's hold twice-yearly auctions of modern and contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish Art. Since our first sale in 2006 we have achieved sales of more than $225 million." It's a staggering figure that represents the robustness of the region's appreciation for culture as well as its formidable spending power.

"We are not complacent," says Khayat. "We constantly innovate and change according to the needs of our marketplace and our clients. For example, our team of specialists collectively speaks Arabic, Farsi, Hindu, French and English - a reflection of the diversity of the collectors who we look after."

Sales take place in April and October and, reflecting the growing interest, the company recently introduced a complementary third event. "The part II sale allows us to offer more variety of contemporary works with prices from $2,000, which has encouraged a new generation of buyers to attend the viewings," explains Khayat. In order to secure the very best works for the sales, Khayat and her team will have scoured the region, visiting private collectors and galleries to gather works.

"Once we have the works, we arrange ship- ping, photography and - my favourite part of the process - research and write about the works. This is where my passion lies, in spending time with a piece, learning more about the artist and examining the condition of the work."

Christie's maintains a dialogue with its buyers, in order to remain abreast of current buying trends and demands. Part of this includes holding a pre-sale viewing, which is free. The viewing includes guided tours for children. "They have such innocent reactions and their interpretation of the works is so unique," says Khayat, "it's one of the nicest parts of my job." It looks as if Christie's has got the next generation of Middle Eastern buyers firmly in its sights. 

More: Art