Libanese artists



Friday is Top day! Every alternate Friday, Artprice posts a theme-based auction ranking. This week we focus on the ten best auction results for Lebanese artists.

Between wars and political crises, Contemporary art has long struggled to find a place in the Lebanon. Many Lebanese artists have quit the country and sought recognition abroad, like Mona Hatoum, who has been living in London since 1975. However, in recent years, initiatives have been taken to increase the visibility of Lebanese Contemporary art. An unavoidable step in that direction was the inauguration in 2009 of the first public space dedicated to Contemporary art, the Beirut Art Center, which clearly advertised the country’s open-culture ambitions. Since then, its enthusiasm for “living” art has given rise to the emergence of new art galleries and the organisation of an International Contemporary Art Fair (Beirut Art Fair). Against the backdrop of this new dynamic, we take a look at the market for Lebanese artists, and more specifically, at those artists who have been the most successful at auction over the last 12 months.

Top 10: the ten best auction results for Lebanese artists

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Mona HATOUM $390000 Silence (1994) 11/08/2011 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
2 Mona HATOUM $111860 Bukhara (2007) 03/24/2012 (Compagnie Marocaine des Oeuvres & Objets d’Art CASABLANCA)
3 Ayman BAALBAKI $80000 Yuk (‘Cupboard’) (2012) 04/17/2012 (Christie’s DUBAI)
4 Mona HATOUM $71001 Doormat II (2000-2001) 10/15/2011 (Christie’s LONDON)
5 Nadim KARAM $63632 Memories, War, and Hope (2008) 10/04/2011 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
6 Nadim KARAM $52000 Lollipop Boy (2011) 04/17/2012 (Christie’s DUBAI)
7 Lara BALADI $42000 Roba Vecchia (2007) 04/18/2012 (Christie’s DUBAI)
8 Walid RA’AD $40578 Untitled (BEY82_Soldiers_I, 1982-2004) (1982-2004) 06/28/2012 (Christie’s LONDON)
9 Nadim KARAM $40000 The Pearl Elephant (2011) 10/25/2011 (Christie’s DUBAI)
10 Jamil MOLAEB $40000 « Fas » (2010) 07/15/2011 (Ayyam Gallery Dubai DUBAI)

At the top, no surprise, Mona Hatoum is far ahead with 3 results: $390,000, $111,860 and $71,000, taking first, second and fourth places. For his part, Nadim Karam has made an impact in other spheres with three results between $40,000 and $60,000. While the minimum entry ticket to the Top 10 ranking of American Contemporary artists under 40 over the past 12 months is $188,000 (see Top 10 of 22 June 2012), the equivalent Lebanese Top 10 (but with no age limit) starts at $40,000.

Mona Hatoum is in first place of this ranking with $390,000 (a new record) for Silent, which forcefully and simply evokes the fragility of life. A glass sculpture resembling a baby’s crib with bars, the work’s sense is in the chosen material which defeats the protective function of the object (the crib would break at the slightest shock). Pursuing a conceptualist and minimalist tradition, Mona Hatoum’s works are also based on her personal life and her origins. Exiled since 1975 and separated from her family, her favourite themes are indeed related to being uprooted, separated and to war. Now widely recognized internationally, her artistic career took off in 1995 after obtaining the prestigious Turner Prize. Her auction debut came three years later, in 1998, with a promising result of $40,000 for an installation entitled A Couple of Swings (Christie’s New York).

Born in 1975, Ayman Baalbaki, the youngest in this top, is currently enjoying rapidly growing visibility. Shown in several major museums (British Museum, Tate Modern, amongst others), he is one of the most promising artists of his generation. His auction career started in 2009 with a superb result at $48,000 (Abel), well above the high estimate of $30,000, and his 9 results to date have all been above $11,000. Between urban ruins and anonymous faces (helmeted, masked with a Keffiyeh or a hood), his artistic world is rooted in the history of his country. He joins this ranking with a result of $80,000 for a powerfully evocative work entitled Yuk (cupboard).

Nadim Karam is a well-known Lebanese artist and it is therefore not surprising that he has three works in this Top. The price differential between his works and Mona Hatoum’s records once again highlights the importance of the international dimension for an artist’s demand. Nadim Karam’s works are primarily traded in the UAE through his gallery, the Ayyam Gallery, which play the dual role of gallery and auction house. An analysis of his results is instructive: out of 28 auction results to date, 23 were hammered by the Ayyam Gallery and only 2 were generated outside the UAE, in London. One of these, Memories, War and Hope is the 5th work in this ranking after fetching nearly $64,000 at Sotheby’s in London on October 4, 2011, which is also his latest auction record.

Still very discreet on the auction market, the work of the Lebanese-Egyptian Baladi Lara enjoys a wide circulation on the international art scene. The artist has exhibited in major institutions (Centre Pompidou, Fondation Cartier, Museet for Fotokunst in Copenhagen, etc.) and participated in major artistic events (Sharjah Biennial, Venice Biennale, etc.). Photographer and multimedia artist, she lived in Beirut, London and Paris before settling in Cairo. Marked by an international education, her multicultural work addresses the personal but also the collective memory. With only 5 auction results since 2008, her works have so far all generated above $30,000. Robba Vechia, which earned 7th place in this Top, was acquired for $42,000 at Christie’s in Dubai on April 18, 2011.

Between video, photography and literary essays, the work of Walid Raad testifies to the troubled history of his country of origin. Almost documentary, his works grow from the creation or collection of texts, photographs and videos that he modifies. Very well known on the international scene, in 2006 already the Hamburger Bahnhof (Berlin) organised a major retrospective for the artist that allowed Sotheby’s, just after, to sign his auction debut at over $17,000 (Untitled, from the series We decided to let them say – October 13, London). Despite winning regular prizes (Guggenheim Fellowship in 2009, Alpert Award in Visual Art, Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2007, Camera Austria Award in 2005) and his presence in the art world’s key places and events, his works are not very present at auctions (only four results to his name, all for photographic prints). However, these works all generated above $10,000. His record stands at over $40,000 for a photograph Untitled (BEY82, Soldiers, I, 1982-2004) and gives him 9th position in this Top.

Focused on traditional folkloric themes, the paintings by Molaeb Jamil (1948) are far from the ubiquitous political questioning of the other artists in this ranking. Belonging to an earlier generation, he creates both figurative paintings and large minimalist compositions. Nevertheless, his abstract works are more in demand than his figurative work (his La Récolte de Bananes failed to sell in December 2008). Despite a very local market, he nevertheless occupies the last place in this ranking with a work entitled Fas which found a buyer for $40,000 setting a new record for the artist.

Although enjoying, in general, good, if not major, international reputations, the markets for Lebanese artists are still largely based in the Middle East and particularly in the UAE. However, when sold elsewhere, it is usually London, and it usually sets a new auction record. The recent dynamism of the Middle East is enhancing the visibility of these artists on the global marketplace.