What happened during last month’s auctions? Or, M. indulges her newfound passion for numbers

On October 25th and 26th , Christie’s Dubai held two auctions of Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish art; a day earlier, Ayyam Dubai held its 11th auction of Middle Eastern Art. How do they compare to April 2011 auctions, and can any trends be identified concerning Lebanese art prices?

Like last time, click on pictures to zoom in!


1. I compiled the auctions results at Christie’s and Ayyam’s October 2011 auctions.

2. I charted the number of times Lebanese artists were sold at auction by Christie’s and Ayyam in Dubai, and how many of these times they were sold within, under or over estimation.

3. For all artists that had previously appeared at auction, I compared their last result, their record and their average result to the October 2011 numbers.

4. I did the same with these artists’ estimations to try to determine trends.

5. Abboud and Guiragossian, the two big outliars, got their own chart.

6. For artists that appeared both at Sotheby’s London Oct. 2011 auction and in one of the Dubai auctions, I compared estimates and results.

7. I weighted each lot equally, regardless of technique and importance within the artist’s oeuvre, i.e. a lithograph from the beginning of a career has the same weight as the artist’s ultimate masterpiece

8. I did not count Mona Hatoum as Lebanese for the purpose of this study.

Before we start:

Average selling price of lots:

Ayyam: USD 15,000

Christie’s: USD 44,000

Chart 1: Average estimate vs. result for Lebanese art lots sold at auction in Dubai, Oct. 2011


In grey: average estimate

In yellow: result

No yellow column means the work was bought in. A yellow column shorter than the grey one does not necessarily mean the work sold under estimate – it could have sold for a low estimate; conversely, a yellow column taller than a grey one does not necessarily imply the lot exceeded its high estimate. These averages are only a way to gauge the performance of individual lots (hence the occurrence of some artists twice) in a neat way without crowding the chart with multiple columns.

Visually, it helps get an idea of how various lots fared proportionally to their estimates, as well as a general idea of price distribution:

Under 20,0000: 50%

20 – 40,000: 31,25%

More than 40,000: 18,75% i.e. Abboud and Guiragossian of course, but also a sculpture by Huguette Caland (these are quite rare) and a pearl elephant by Nadim Karam

As for the names…

Newcomers: one: Fatima el Hajj (who’s everything but a newcomer on the art scene)

Artists who had only appeared once previously: three: Hussein Baalbaki, Samir Khaddaje (who incidentally had an important retrospective last year in Beirut and apparently is looking to dedicate himself to installations), Raouf Rifai

All quite established then; this October round did not operate any drastic renewal of the Lebanese art auction scene.

Then, I counted the number of lots sold over, under and within estimate and the number of unsold or bought in lots, which begat:


Chart 2: Christie’s Dubai overall results for Lebanese artists


Over estimate:

Guiragossian (one lot went for USD 60,000, 50% over its high estimate; the other went for USD 242,500, 35% over its high estimate and a new record for the artist)

Assadour (4% over high estimate)

Koukjian (25% over high estimate, participating in the vogue for neon and Arabic witticisms?)

Katanani (33% over high estimate)

Under estimate:

Abboud (an 1981 composition that sold for USD 92,500 or 7,5% under its low estimate: very surprising considering the craze for this artist and the very high prices he usually reaches. Maybe it was too expensive for a 100 x 140 cm painting?)

Chart 3: Ayyam Dubai overall results for Lebanese artists


Over estimate:

Matar (50% over estimate for one of her photos)

Under estimate:

Khaddaje (USD 18,000 or 10% under its low estimate)

Ghazal (USD 3,600 or 10% under its low estimate)

Bought in:

Rifai (a painting priced at USD 8,000 – 10,000 – almost less than the prices he usually commands)

Hrair (a painting priced at USD 10,000 – 18,000)

I took the above charts as indicators of the soundness of the auction houses’ pricing strategies: the more lots are bought in or sell for less than the reserve price, the likelier prices were overestimated.

At Christie’s, 65% of lots sold within estimation and 30% over, while only 5% went under estimate: overall, pricing seems coherent with market expectations.

As for Ayyam, the proportion of lots that go under estimate or are bought in is higher (33%), and that of lots going over estimate is lower (8.33%): could a revision of pricing strategies be a good idea?


Chart 4: Trends at Dubai auctions since 2006


For each artist* that had already appeared at auction (at Christie’s since 2006 or at Ayyam since 2011), I charted:

– his or her record (all-time maximum result)

–  his or her result during this last round of auctions (at Ayyam or Christie’s or both, averaging in the event of multiple lots)

– his or her last auction result (2011 for all of them except Geitani whom I only had on file for 2007, averaging in the event of multiple lots)

*except Abboud and Guiragossian, whom I take care of elsewhere


It is hard to establish trends, because many of these names have only been present at auction since 2010 or 2011. Moreover, some artists have been featured with works of very different media and sizes (Karam for instance, who has had everything from very large paintings to very small sculptures).

Who establishes records and goes above their historical average:

Matar (present in auctions since 2011, she goes up 50% since April)

Baalbaki and Koukjian (although I would need to check their full auction history, which I don’t have access to)

Geitani (up USD 1,000 since 2007)

Karam (up 5% from his April 2011 record of USD 35,000)

Caland (up 40% since her last apparition at auction)

As for the rest…

Hrair: was pulled out

Rawas: went for USD 25,000, whereas a similar work had previously gone for USD 42,500 in April 2011.

Choukini: the work sold at Christie’s had previously been auctioned in 2008 and sold for USD 12,500; this time it only reached USD 10,625.

Assi: dip since April, but I can only vouch for her 2011 results as I don’t have her full auction history

Assadour: although he is rare at auctions, he goes under his USD 38,000 average by 18%.

Facing these variations in the results, I calculated the overall averages of the 10 artists under consideration. October 2011 results are under the all-time records, but they exceed all-time averages by 9.5% and April 2011 results by 2.6 %. Overall, the trend is on the rise, if only slightly.


Chart 5: Estimates comparison


If some of the result prices can be random or unpredictable, I tried to see if charting the estimates would yield more insight in pricing trends.


So for the same artists as above, I charted:

–       His or her October 20011 estimate (Christie’s, Ayyam or both, and averaged in the event of multiple lots)

–       His or her last estimate at auction

–       His or her average estimate since 2006


All except Choukini exceed their average since 2006. All, except Choukini and Assadour, exceed their April 2011 estimate. Overall, estimates are up 29% from April and up 41% compared to the all-time averages. Trend: definitely on the rise. However, considering the proportion of works, especially at Ayyam,  that failed to sell within their estimates, maybe estimations should not be increasing as much?


Chart 6:  Abboud and Guiragossian, 2006-2011


Both go up and down depending on the size, quality and rarity of the lots at auction. However, barring minor dips (rather, being equal to the average estimation) they constantly exceed estimates.

In October 2011, Abboud is up 11% from his all-time average result of USD 81,000 and his estimate is up 35% from his all-time average of USD 59,000.

Guiragossian is up 34% from his all-time average result of USD 80,000 and his exceeds his average estimate of USD 59,000 by 14%. He also established a new USD 242,500 record this time around.

In five years, their prices have doubled. Guiragossian in particular seems to defy the laws of supply and demand, appearing consistently and many times at each auction. And with such long and varied carriers in both cases, one wonders how all their works, regardless of size or quality or period, are always in such high demand. In any event, the market has anointed them the Great Old Masters of Lebanese art, and behave accordingly.


Chart 7: October 2011 auctions around the globe: Sotheby’s London vs Christie’s and Ayyam Dubai


Obviously incomplete because the artist overlap is minimal, and evidently unfair since this is a comparison of two works only per artist, two works that are sometimes not comparable in size, technique or date of production, which affect the prices.

The Sotheby’s sale was bad but less so for Lebanese artists (12 out of 17 lots sold). Apart from the few bought in pieces, the ones that did sell at Sotheby’s fared well, and often better than in Dubai.

On average, the estimates and the results are located within the same price ranges.


In the end, the market for Lebanese art appears healthy, and is growing, albeit slowly. Prices at times might be overestimated, but not outrageously so.

With the global financial and political instability, art remains one of the most reliable investments….

I’ll leave you with one last question: what are the reasons that make some artists become overrepresented at auctions, while others, just as famous, sometimes even more respected by the critical community, never do?



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