Regardless of sanctions, Iranian art flourishes

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Regardless of sanctions, Iranian art flourishes

DUBAI - Iran’s smart set turned out in force for this year’s Tehran Art Auction, spending a record amount as the country’s modern and contemporary art scene thrives despite economic sanctions.

The annual event on Friday was a sell-out, raising $5.1 million from the auction of works by Iranian artists, more than double the amount fetched last year.

While Western sanctions since 2010 on Iran’s oil and financial sectors have sapped Iranian collectors’ purchasing power, and forced them to retreat from international art auctions such as Christie’s, they have also been a catalyst to building up the domestic art market.

Since its launch three years ago, the Tehran Art Auction has gained social cachet and most of the 90 items sold on Friday went for at least two times their predicted values, pushing total sales $2.4 million above forecasts, according to the Tehran Art Auction website.

The highest-selling pieces were two works by notable Iranian poet and painter, Sohrab Sepehri (1928-80), “Untitled (from the tree trunk series)” and “Untitled” sold for $680,000 and $604,000 respectively.

With no other comparable event in the Iranian capital, the auction is very much a place to see and be seen.

Prominent Iranian actor, Reza Kianian, was the auctioneer at the Hotel Parsian, one of Tehran’s top hotels, on Friday, and the event drew an audience of more than 1,000 - although “only about 100 of the people who attended actually bid,” said Zahra Jahan-Bakhsh, the Tehran Art Auction’s co-head of international sales.

“Iranians like to show off and this is the best way to do so,” a participant told Reuters.

Indeed, many works by the same artists could be found at private galleries for half the price. “I can tell by the cars parked in the lots that the attendees are very rich,” she said.

Other notable works on sale were “The Hunting Blue Sky” by Reza Derakhshani (1952), which fetched $227,000, and “Love” by Mohammad Ehsai (1939), which went for $219,000.

Sales at the auction have risen from about $1.7 million at the first auction in 2012 when 73 lots were sold. Last year, 80 works went on the block, raising $2 million.

“The economic crisis was the whole reason we started Tehran Art Auction,” said Alireza Sami Azar, a former managing director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran who is the founder and director of the Tehran Art Auction.

He is also credited with bringing Iran’s contemporary art collection out of hiding. “We’ve had to look to the private sector for support,” he said.

Tehran boasts more than 200 privately owned galleries, most of which have opened over the past 10 years.

Iranian art attracted attention in 2008, when a work by the sculptor Parviz Tanavoli fetched $2.8 million at Christie’s in Dubai.


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