‘The aim has been to focus on different areas and eras of modernism within the Middle East, Iran and Turkey. In this particular case, abstraction’ says Ashkan Baghestani, a specialist on Arab and Iranian art at Sotheby’s, gesturing a hand towards an untitled work from 1964 by the late Iranian artist Behjat Sadr.
‘Sadr was very prominent and avant-garde,’ Baghestani explains. ‘She was one of the first Iranian artists to be exhibited at the Venice Biennale in the late 1950s. She was prolific between the 1950s and 1980s but painted in a style that was very abstract and kinetic – a style that was not highly sought after locally at the time.’
“There’s a real thirst from our established and newer collector base to try to understand its own culture and history through art”
Ahead of ‘20th Century Art: A Different Perspective’, an exhibition and auction held at Sotheby’s in London on December 2, a preview was held at JAMM Art Gallery in Al Quoz, Dubai. The collection brings together many Middle Eastern, Iranian and Turkish artists who, like Sadr, are considered pioneers of abstract modernism by a strong regional following but are not yet part of an international mainstream.
‘A lot of the works are very rare and significant due to the key periods they represent in each of the artist’s oeuvre. We’re trying to think outside the box and understand the parallels between these regions and how they can relate aesthetically with the rest of the modern art scene,’ says Baghestani, pointing out two modern works from Iranian artist Bahman Mohasses, an expressive oil on canvas by Fahrelnissa Zeid and another work by Iranian-Italian artist Vincenzo Bianchini.
Elsewhere, the sale highlights modern works from Armenia, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Morocco and Turkey and features work from Ahmed Cherkaoui, Mahmoud Mokthar and Hamit Gorele among others.
‘It’s a relatively young market, auction-wise, when compared to others,’ Baghestani says of the Middle East’s art scene. ‘It’s very vibrant, and there’s a real thirst from our established and newer collector base to try to understand its own culture and history through art.’
The sale was at Sotheby’s London from the November 27 until December 1.