For the Guardian, Saeed Kamali Dehghan reports on the record-breaking sale of a work by Iranian poet and painter Sohrab Sepehri, which sold for around 28bn rials (£560,000). The auction in total doubled its estimate despite the country being under sanctions and its banking system cut off from international transactions. Apparently international bidders just used an intermediary in Iran.
Check out an excerpt below, or the entire article on the Guardian.
In Tehran’s luxurious Grand Azadi hotel, a row of women dressed in black with red headscarves hold the lines open to bidders as the auctioneer tries to conjure up increasingly large sums with his hammer. As artworks are displayed, prices in the tens of billions of Iranian rials – hundreds of thousands of pounds – light up the large Samsung screen on the wall. In the crowd are some familiar faces including actors, politicians and the retired Iranian football star Ali Daei.
The auction of modern and contemporary Iranian art, which is jockeying to be among the big auctions in the Middle East, is an annual event and was being held for the fourth time. But this year was different: the prices that were bid were astonishing for a country still struggling with international sanctions. And the auction, held on Friday, made nearly double what had been predicted, totalling £4.3m.
A tree trunk painting by celebrated Iranian poet and painter Sohrab Sepehri sold for around 28bn rials (£560,000), becoming the most expensive painting ever sold in Iran. Other works that attracted large sums include those of the New York-based artist Manoucher Yektai and sculptor Parviz Tanavoli, as well as pieces by Bahman Mohassess and Aydin Aghdashloo.
“It exceeded our expectations,” a Tehran auction spokeswoman told the Guardian. “We sold almost 180% ... [of] what we had estimated. We had buyers both from inside and outside Iran. Out of 126 works that had been presented, 125 of them were sold.”
Due to sanctions, Iran’s banking system is cut off from the outside world but that did not stop international bidders participating in the auction. “Foreigners had an intermediary paying on their behalf in Tehran,” the spokeswoman said. The event was sponsored by Samsung’s Iran branch, among other companies.
Shiva Balaghi, a cultural historian of the Middle East at Brown University, said the auction showed art purchases were increasing in Iran. “The growing art market in Iran is significant and is sustained by a new generation of local collectors,” she said. “The recent Tehran auctions have been showing consistently strong prices. There has been notable interest in Iranian modern masters like Sohrab Sepehri, Marcos Grigorian and Parviz Tanavoli.”
*Image caption: Piece by Iranian painter Aydin Aghdashloo on display at the auction in Tehran’s Grand Azadi hotel. Photograph: Hemmat Khahi for the Guardian