Iran’s first contemporary art auction: All works sold

Iranian contemporary artists, who have historically performed very well, could see more home-grown institutional support.

Iran held its first contemporary art auction in Tehran on 22 June 2012. The sale’s remarkable success came as a pleasant surprise to many of the participants, with all of the 73 lots selling for a total of approximately USD1.7 million, the top of the auction’s pre-sale estimate.

Sohrab Sepehri, 'Untitled', 1967, acrylic and oil on canvas. Sold at Tehran Auction in June 2012 for USD155,000.

Sohrab Sepehri, 'Untitled', 1967, acrylic and oil on canvas. Sold at Tehran Auction in June 2012 for USD155,000.

Tehran Auction was organised by Alireza Sami Azar, the former head of Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art and senior editor for the Persian quarterly publication Art Tomorrow. While the crowd was mostly local, Michael Jeha, Christie’s managing director and head of sales in the Middle East, attended the event and spoke well of its organisation. Several overseas buyers bid by phone.

The top lot at the auction was an untitled work by Modern poet and painter Sohrab Sepehri, which went for IRR1.9 billion (USD155,000). Other notable sales from the auction include “Allah” from calligrapher Mohammad Ehsaii at IRR1.2 billion (USD97,000) and the top-priced photograph, a work by famed film director Abbas Kiarostami from his “Snow White” series, which sold for more than IRR360 million (USD29,000). A sculpture by Tehran-born artist Parviz Tanavoli, who currently holds the auction record for highest-selling Middle Eastern artist, went for IRR1.16 billion (USD94,000).

Abbas Kiarostami, 'Portrait from the Snow White series', 2009, photography print on canvas. Sold at Tehran Auction in June 2012 for more than USD29,000.

Abbas Kiarostami, 'Portrait from the Snow White series', 2009, photography print on canvas. Sold at Tehran Auction in June 2012 for more than USD29,000.

As reported in the Financial Times, the sale included a mix of established and emerging artists from the Iran whose commentary was not overly impeded by censorship.

Tehran Auction … needed government permission to take place, but that is standard procedure for any cultural event in Iran. In fact, the country’s visual art is less subject to state-imposed censorship – other than a strict ban on nudes – than media such as cinema, the authorities apparently taking the view that its obliqueness and relatively narrow audience make it less dangerous. Tehran’s two dozen or so private galleries have regular openings without facing any major restrictions from the government and send work to overseas exhibitions and auctions.


The predominantly liberal art community, however, has been feeling wary since the bitterly disputed 2009 presidential election. Many backed the reformist Mir-Hossein Moussavi – who is also a painter – for the presidency; he is now under house arrest, despite, his supporters say, having won by a landslide. The post-election unrest, in which tens of demonstrators were killed, has certainly had an impact on art works. Hassan Razghandi, a 28-year-old sculptor whose latest crystal pieces question the concept of ‘enemy’, says efforts to avoid censorship and political suppression have made Iran’s visual art more sophisticated and creative.

With the sale’s success, observers are optimistic about developing Iran’s local contemporary art institutions.

PR/KN

Related Topics: Iranian artists, market watch – auctions, Asia expands, censorship of art

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