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Sotheby's Presents Its Strongest Ever Sale of Modern and Contemporary Arab and Iranian Art
Moshiri, 3haar, dated 2006, oil, acrylic and glue on canvas, 3haar, dated 2006. Estimated at £50,000-70,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Sotheby's announced that its strongest Modern and Contemporary Arab and Iranian Art Sale ever staged by the company, will take place in London on Wednesday, October 20, 2010. In terms of the quality and range of works of art on offer, the 83 lots include major works by the leading Modern masters such as Sohrab Sepehri, Abdel Hadi El-Gazzar and Mahmoud Said, as well as key pieces by some of the foremost Contemporary artists, such as Farhad Moshiri and Youssef Nabil. The sale is expected to realise in excess of £2.5 million.

Commenting on the forthcoming sale, Dalya Islam, Deputy Director, Sotheby’s Middle East Department, said: “The MENA region, which has experienced transforming growth in the past 10 years, has borne and nurtured some of the finest modern and contemporary artists of our time. We are delighted to be able to play a role in further raising global awareness and understanding of the output of such talented artists from this region by presenting their works on the international platform of Sotheby’s annual Contemporary Arab and Iranian Sale in London. This October we present our strongest-ever sale – in terms of quality and range - in this field, which not only offers cohesive and representative work by Lebanese, Syrian and Iraqi modern masters and major pieces by Iranian and Egyptian artists, but also showcases an impressive selection of young cutting-edge work.”

Modern Art Section
One of the most important works in the Modern Art component of the sale is Egyptian artist Abdel Hadi El-Gazzar’s (1925-1966) oil on board, Beach Dream, which was executed in 1957 and comes from the Collection of Dr Khalid Massoud. This spectacular painting was commissioned by the highly influential Egyptian Professor of Fine Arts, Dr Hussein Amin, on the occasion of his wedding to Hanya Fawzy, daughter of the former Foreign Minister, Mahmoud Fawzy, in 1957. Hussein Amin was one of the most important figures on the arts scene in Egypt in the mid-20th century. He was a dedicated teacher and mentor, who encouraged artists from the poorest, least privileged of backgrounds, in the belief that such a grass roots movement would lead to social transformation. Amin followed the development of his students extremely closely, even to jail, in his impassioned defence of their art and polemics – Egyptian art of the modern period was highly controversial and dealt with sociopolitical issues that went hard against the party line. Beach Dream is a complete departure from Abdel Hadi El- Gazzar’s usual work, and is set apart from the rest of his oeuvre by its celebration of life and love. In the case of this particular painting, for the sake of his mentor and father figure Hussein Amin, on his nephew's wedding day, Gazzar puts aside his fatalism, and creates a work that is more paradise than purgatory. The shell recurs over and over again in different forms, littering the ground around the women's feet and most significantly cradling the only male figure in the scene, symbolising the womb and procreation, a protective form that represented shelter, and even the source of life. This incredibly rare, monumental work by one of Egypt’s most important and celebrated artists, is arguably the most important modern Egyptian painting to come to auction and is of museum quality and pedigree. Beach Dream is estimated at £200,000-300,000.

Iranian artist Sohrab Sepehri’s Untitled (From the Tree Trunks Series) is the largest and most significant work by the artist ever to come to auction – that was a personal commission by a member of the late Shah's cabinet, the former minister of Mohammadreza Shah Pahlavi, from Sohrab Sepehri in 1976. Two years after it was painted and hung by the artist himself in the minister's office, it was relocated first to London and then to the United States, and it has remained in private hands since. Sohrab Sepehri is one of the most highly acclaimed of Iran’s twentieth century artists and poets. In this particular painting, the artist’s partial representation of tree trunks to indicate the whole tree was intentional, and symbolic of his introspection and state of mind. To Sepehri minimalism wasn't just an artistic tool but a reflection of his emotional and psychological condition. The Tree Trunks Series was painted during a spell in New York when he was under a great deal of pressure working on major commissions for museums, the series was conceived as soothing, highly meditative works. Very few Sepehris of this scale can be found in private hands as the majority were commissioned by major museums in whose collections they remain. This oil on canvas is a supreme example of the artist’s elegant brushwork, the restraint of his palette, the influence of the Far East and the profound love he had for his homeland, and is estimated at £200,000-300,000.

The sale is also set to include the oil on canvas Untitled by Fateh Moudarres, dated 1966, which is one of the finest of Moudarres' works to come to auction. Painted on a grand scale (125 by 224.5cm) it is both moving and impressive. The family unit features in most of his works; figures cluster together forming a tightly knit and indomitable throng, as they do here. The rural environment also held particular significance for Moudarres, and his palette and imagination return him to the deep rusts and ochres of pastoral Syria. Often Moudarres' work is perceived as a simply decorative portrayal of rural Syria, when in fact the artist is concerned with so much more, from personal issues of loss, to politics and cultural identity. The work is estimated at £100,000-150,000.

Egyptian artist Mahmoud Said’s oil on panel L’Endormie, 1933, is a magnificent painting and the largest - measuring 104 by 76.4cm – of Said's nudes to come to auction. First in the major collection of Hussein Sirri Pasha (1894-1960), the Prime Minister at three different points in Egypt's modern history - twice in the 1940s, and finally at the time of King Farouk I's abdication. Then, in the early 1950s, L'Endormie was acquired by the famous Egyptian architect and Professor of Beaux Art at Fouad (now Cairo) University, Antoine Nahas. On Nahas' death in 1966 the work made its way into a private collection and has remained in Europe since. Its sale at Sotheby’s represents the first time the portrait has been on public display since the early 1950s. L'Endormie is a magnificent example of Mahmoud Said's iconic nudes, published in the seminal work on the artist, and is estimated at £100,000-120,000. The sale also includes a group of four further works by Mahmoud Said, which come from the collection of Dr. ElKayem and appear on the market for the very first time since they were executed by the artist

Further highlights in the Modern Art section of the sale include: Chafic Abboud’s oil on canvas Untitled, 1966, (estimate: £18,000-22,000); the artist’s oil on canvas Une Bonne Journée (A Good Day), 2000 (estimate: £25,000-35,000); and the oil and plaster on board Untitled by Shakir Hassan dated 1963 (estimate: £18,000-22,000).

The Contemporary component of the auction will be headlined by a group of three pieces by Iranian artist Farhad Moshiri (b. 1963), each of which are fine examples of these major bodies of his work:

Moshiri’s oil, acrylic and glitter on canvas mounted on panel Born Yesterday, which he executed in 2007, is one of Farhad Moshiri's most striking cake-icing works to come for sale. Depicting a frothy cookie-cut-out wedding-cake in its most familiar Hollywood incarnation, Moshiri is at his most subversive and satirical, comparing the imported western ideal with local custom. With its roots in Zoroastrian traditions, the Persian wedding has remained relatively unchanged from time immemorial. Branded with the phrase 'Born Yesterday', it is an apparent reference to the notion that youth culture looks not to its Persian roots, but rather to the western ideal that is spoon fed to them through glossy magazines, American sit coms and Hollywood movies. The polarities of east and west are explored in this imagery. This is pop-culture at its most poppy, a confection in fluorescent colours and glitter that provides an arresting and brassy contrast to the spirituality of the Persian tradition. The work is estimated at £60,000-80,000.

Contemporary ontemporary Art Section
The oil, acrylic and glue on canvas "Nagoo Ke Kheyli Dire, Eshghat Narafte Az Yad" ("Don't Say It's Too Late, Your Love Has Not Been Forgotten"), executed by Moshiri in 2005, is arguably one of the most beautiful of Farhad Moshiri's jars to come to auction and is estimated at £60,000-80,000. With its delicate peach and gold surface, and the white calligraphic inscription that melts into the surface, this particular jar painting has an exquisite lightness that is lost in some of Moshiri's more austere representations of the Sassanian urn. In his monumental jar paintings, Farhad Moshiri depicts iconic pots inspired by bottles, bowls, and jars discovered by archaeologists in the 6000 year old site of Susa. Rather than being ornamented with lines from classical Persian poems or with verses from the Qur'an as tradition dictates, Moshiri inscribes this jar with the words from a love song that reads: "Nagoo ke kheyli dire, Eshghat narafte az yad". (Translating as "Do not say it is too late, I have not forgotten [my] love for you"), lyrics from a popular Iranian song.

The final work by Moshiri in the sale is his oil, acrylic and glue on canvas 3haar, dated 2006, which draws inspiration from the clash of modernity and tradition in contemporary Iranian culture. In this series of works featuring numbers and letters overlaid and intertwined to form either an abstract design or a meaningful pattern depending on the perspective, Moshiri combines two very distinct artistic traditions in a visual puzzle drawing on optical illusion. To a Western eye, without knowledge of Arabic letters and numerals or Islamic tradition, this canvas has an intentionally abstract expressionist quality that can be likened to the works of Willem de Kooning dating from the latter half of the 1940s. To the Middle Eastern eye the canvas clearly draws on the traditions of magic and numerology that are alive and well in many provincial pockets of the region, and which was certainly a thriving custom until the late-19th century. The final result is both a subtle commentary and an elegant work of art which is estimated at £50,000-70,000.

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