The cover lot of the Christie’s Dubai sale of modern and contemporary art on Tuesday is a potted, purple-hued cactus, painted with thick brushstrokes that convey a sense of resolve. For Middle Eastern eyes, the subject matter is familiar. Its maker, Asim Abu Shaqra, torn between his Palestinian and Israeli identities, found common ground in a plant that is indigenous to both cultures. Cactus (1986) was painted four years before the artist’s untimely death to cancer, at the age of 28. “We’re not going to get such a work by Abu Shaqra again,” says Hala Khayat, Christie’s associate director and Head of Sale.
She is right; his brief life left behind just a few paintings to circulate on the market. And yet, the hefty estimate on Abu Shaqra’s Cactus—$200,000–250,000—has raised some eyebrows. Especially as such a price suggests there’s only really one buyer in the painting’s forecast: Qatar’s Sheikh Hassan bin Mohammed bin Ali Al-Thani. As founder of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art (which boasts one of the world’s best collections of modern Arab art including several pieces Abu Shaqra), he is constantly on the lookout for seminal pieces.
Though the sale includes modern and contemporary works, it is heavy on the former, with Arab artists dominating—a trend for several sales now. Dealing with Iranian work has been challenging due to sanctions, but Khayat and others are optimistic about the thawing Iran-U.S. relations. One modern Iranian highlight is Manoucher Yektai’s vase of flowers (est. $20,000–30,000). The American-Iranian artist is the ex-husband of
, a celebrated Iranian artist who was the subject of a Guggenheim retrospective
earlier this year. Lot 102, Monir’s gift to Edwin P. Kennedy Jr. in 1977, is estimated to go for $80,000–120,000. Another seminal work is Bahman Mohasses’s mythological Untitled
(1966), a painting expected to bring in $80,000–120,000.