The Art Market: Uncertain times in Dubai

While Dubai has a successful, well-regarded art fair held each year in March, the rest of the market in the emirate hardly seems buoyant. Bonhams pulled out this year, and Isabelle de la Bruyère, Christie’s director in the Middle East, is relocating to London after the firm’s two auctions this week.

Christie’s has just held its October sessions in the emirate, producing a successful but small Part I sale that totalled $3.6m, slightly short of its high estimate (pre-sale estimates don’t include premium; results do). The lower-value Part II sale made $2.3m, again just short of high estimate.

Top prices were made for Egyptian and Iranian artists: Mahmoud Saïd’s “Pêcheurs à Rashid (Rosette)”, 1941, sold for $818,500 (estimate $400,000-$600,000) while Farhad Moshiri’s “8N619VT” (2005) made a within-estimate $254,500. But the figures appear to indicate that the market is shrinking gently: the $5.9m total is the lowest Christie’s has made since April 2009. Last year the same session made $7.5m; in April this year, the two Dubai sales fetched $6.4m.

Christie’s local head Michael Jeha says this is a misleading assessment of the situation. “You have to remove the ‘outlier’ years of 2007 and 2008,” he explains, “and the earlier sales included international art. In fact, our sales consistently make between $5m and $7m; the market here is both stable and sustainable, and is a platform for building relationships with Middle Eastern clients.”

Jeha points out that 8 per cent of Christie’s global turnover in 2011 – $456m – came from Middle Eastern buyers. Asked whether the political unrest in the region was having any impact on sales, he said: “There are no restrictions on exporting art from Iran or Egypt, so sourcing is not a problem, and Christie’s was never reliant on buyers from the countries experiencing unrest, so for the moment we have not been affected. But things can change very quickly – we’re keeping a close eye on the situation..”

A new owner seems to be in the offing for New York’s Armory Show, which belongs to MMPI (Merchandise Mart Properties Inc). The company has apparently decided to divest itself of its art fair portfolio, which also includes Volta and Art Platform Los Angeles. Art publisher Louise Blouin – whose media company includes Art + Auction – is rumoured to be in talks to buy the fair and, according to The Art Newspaper, Russian investor Sergey Skaterschikov is also interested. Armory Show director Noah Horowitz says that, yes, he has heard the rumours but has no comment to make.

In London, a judge has finally handed down a pre-trial ruling in the long-simmering case which opposes Partridge Fine Arts – the now defunct antique dealer – and the consortium which bought the firm in 2005. The whole thing went very sour after Partridge went into liquidation in 2009, triggering a bitter legal battle.

On one side is the consortium, which includes former government minister David Mellor and ceramics dealer Mark Law. On the other side are Partridge shareholders, mainly family members.

The Partridges originally sued Mellor and co because they wanted the final £819,000 payment due to complete the deal, and they have now obtained that sum. But before that Mellor and co had countersued, accusing John and Frank Partridge of fraudulently misrepresenting the financial health of the business when it was sold. They also claimed “fraudulent trading practices involving the counterfeiting of items” – six pieces of furniture and one painting, to be precise, allegations the Partridges deny.

Recently a judge struck out almost all of these charges, exonerating Frank completely and leaving just one charge standing against John Partridge and one concerning a pair of mahogany card tables. But this week the consortium won the right to appeal some of these decisions, so don’t hold your breath – the next round will be some time next year.

Swedish entrepreneur and collector Staffan Ahrenberg, buyer of the Cahiers d’Art review

. . .

The relaunch of the influential art review Les Cahiers d’Art attracted a line-up of major art world personalities in Paris last week. Dealers Larry Gagosian, Jay Jopling and Thaddaeus Ropac, along with Guggenheim boss Richard Armstrong, Alfred Pacquement of the Pompidou Centre and curator Suzanne Pagé, who buys for Bernard Arnault’s coming Paris museum, all crammed into a tiny Left Bank gallery to celebrate the return of Les Cahiers, which ceased publishing in 1970.

The magazine was alive, if dormant, when Swedish collector and entrepreneur Staffan Ahrenberg, walking along the rue du Dragon, spotted the still-operating Cahiers d’Art gallery, walked in and asked if the journal was for sale. It was, and now he has bought it and relaunched it with former Art Basel director Sam Keller and omnipresent curator Hans Ulrich Obrist as editors. The first issue has just appeared, featuring Ellsworth Kelly, Cyprien Gaillard and Sarah Morris. As in the past, it won’t carry advertising, nor have a regular schedule. “We’ll publish each one when we are ready,” Keller said at the launch: “It might not appear for a few months, and then we might do two.”

In an interview with Paris Match this week, Larry Gagosian said that he was looking for a third London space, seemingly confirming my snippet earlier this month that he was eyeing up premises in Grosvenor Hill. You read it here first!

Georgina Adam is editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper

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