LONDON - On Friday, October 16, 2009, Sotheby’s London will present, for the first time, a significant section of Arab & Iranian Art in its annual October Contemporary Art Sale to coincide with the Frieze Art Fair. The Arab & Iranian component of the sale features 46 works by some of the foremost Contemporary artists of Middle Eastern origin, and together the works are estimated to realize in excess of £1 million.
Spearheading the Arab & Iranian works will be Cowboy and Indian, in acrylic and glitter on canvas, in two parts, by Farhad Moshiri (b. 1963), who is at the very forefront of Contemporary Iranian Art. In the present work, Moshiri has masterfully intertwined artistic innovation with a subtle yet subversive socio political commentary to create one of the most exciting and varied outputs of recent times. The Cowboy and Indian figures, mainstay figureheads of North American culture, are apparently depicted in sugary confection as metaphor for both homogenizing mass culture and in reference to the well-documented lavish culinary excesses during the reign of the last Shah of Iran. Thus through its media alone Moshiri's work implicates and interrogates layered socio-cultural themes, principally the impact of the dissemination of Western culture throughout other parts of the world, specifically the Middle East. Rooted in a Pop dialect founded by the likes of Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann and Robert Rauschenberg, Moshiri's mode of expression also similarly takes up themes of contemporary consumerist and branding culture. The work is expected to realize £150,000-200,000.
Another important work in this section is Palastinian artist Mona Hatoum's extraordinary and monumental Untitled (Baalbeck Birdcage) of 1999 in wood and galvanized steel. It stands as an awe-inspiring testament to the artist's brilliant manipulation of scale and pioneering sculptural invention. The inspiration behind this work was a domestic birdcage that Hatoum encountered in the city of Baalbeck during a journey in Lebanon in 1996. Metaphorical associations of imprisonment and acute claustrophobia confront the viewer and are immediately compelling, and Hatoum even used the dimensions of cells of the infamous prison Alcatraz to fashion her phenomenally oversized sculpture. Hatoum has reinterpreted the original birdcage by magnifying its scale ten times. Born in Beirut in 1952, Hatoum's life experience has thus far been one of double exile: first as part of a Palestinian family in Lebanon, and subsequently manifest as her own move to England during Lebanon's Civil War of the 1970s. Although her work is frequently interpreted within this biographical context, with special attention drawn to allied themes such as displacement, alienation, and exile, she herself has always avoided being overtly autobiographical or didactic in her work. Indeed, the present work brilliantly encapsulates how she brings together personal, political and conceptual strands in her art. It is estimated at £100,000-150,000.
Iranian artist Mitra Tabrizian’s cibachrome print City, London, which depicts business suit clad men and women in eerily staged scenes set in industrial or commercial venues devoid of human touch, is estimated at £15,000-20,000. The artist’s glossy and color-saturated City, London, dated 2008, explores the post-modern identity of the businessman and the harrowing conditions of contemporary, corporate life. For the present work, Tabrizian invited a group of professional actors and non-actors to execute her scenarios, purposely employing individuals with a disparate range of performing abilities. The work showing a group of businessmen in a bank setting, with the actors and non-actors standing alone spread out in the space. Detached and insulated from their surroundings, the men do not interact with each other, let alone make eye contact. The vacant expressions on the faces transform them into dressed mannequins rather than businessmen; as they seem to forget their ambitions, aspirations and purpose of being in that space.
A further highlight is Blue Dome I by Y. Z. Kami, which is estimated at £60,000-80,000. Painted paper mounted on linen, dated 2008 and measuring 160 by 182.9cm., this work is inspired by heaven and earth, body and soul, man and the divine, and is an outstanding masterpiece of the artist’s oeuvre. The marriage of blue paper 'tiles' that so recall the architecture of the 17th century Shah's mosque in Isfahan, and the brown linen background, enable the work to be both striking and meditative. Even in its abstraction, these architectural collages of Y. Z. Kami are arguably some of the most successful studies of Persian architecture.
Also to be offered for sale is Nasrollah Afjehi’s 2007 ink on canvas Siah Mashq (Black Homework). Afjei was originally influenced by the Naqqashikhatt movement (calligraphic painting), which includes artists such as Charles Hossein Zenderoudi and Faramarz Pilaram, and has now been creating calligraphic paintings for 30 years. The focus in his work is solely on the calligraphy and the tradition of the art. This specific painting is based on a calligraphic exercise using the nastaliq style. The subject matter of Siah Mashq is clearly very important to Afjei as the legibility of the calligraphy continues to the corners of the canvas to the smallest handwriting, whereas the intensity of color takes a back seat to the content. The work is estimated at £40,000-60,000.
Representing the Lebanese artists in the sale is Chafic Abboud’s oil on canvas Une Soirée au Palace, executed by the artist in 1980. Abboud was born to a wealthy middle-class Lebanese family and his youth was an idyll of summers in the mountains, and winters in Beirut; at the time the ‘Riviera’ of the Middle East. There is little that is dark or melancholic, politicized or inflammatory in his work. Chafic Abboud is a pure artist, taking a still life, a landscape or a memory of his childhood and depicting it in a style that owes much to Abstract Expressionism – his works are always balanced, with one color complementing or offsetting another. Moving to Paris in 1946, Abboud was one of the many artist/immigrants that populated the city at the time. With the end of the Second World-War, the Parisian art scene had moved towards Abstract Expressionism. Abboud’s style characterized by loose brushwork and a lack of figurative subject matter, the artist is an unmistakable child of the movement. The expressive brushstrokes and brilliant palette of Une Soirée au Palace suggest a riotous, brightly lit party on a summer night. The whirl of colors at the heart of the painting is brilliantly offset by serene blues and greens. The work carries an estimate of £35,000-45,000.