Wed, 10/21/2009 - 00:33
Last Friday saw the first ever art auction held in Cairo. And what an auction it was. Cairo was once known across the globe as the cultural center of the Middle East, churning out superstars such as Nancy Ajram and “ah we noss” or George Wassouf and actor Nour El Sheriff to name a few. But more recently, it seems the Gulf emirate states of Dubai and Abu Dhabi have stolen the limelight. Cultural institutions of the highest pedigree have set up shop in the Gulf. Asked why he thought so many high hitters and top-notchers were so interested in the Gulf, Sami Bin Al Abu Jimmy Fahd responded succinctly, "money."
And with an endless supply of oil money the Gulf now commanding center stage on the Middle Eastern cultural landscape is inevitable. Or is it? Across the Red Sea, on a surprisingly warm day in Cairo people arrived in throngs to witness one of the biggest art events in Egypt. Some may recall last year's wildly successful Damien Hirst auction at Sotheby’s pulling in a whooping $229 million, the modest Cairo auction house, Number 27, announced a no less groundbreaking contemporary art auction, the first of its kind in Egypt.
Speaking to El Koshary Today on his mobile phone from a taxi somewhere in downtown Cairo, Number 27’s director Khaled Ganzabeel noted, “Yes we can. I mean, we believe there is a real love for art here. It is always on the forefront of people’s minds, especially in a difficult financial times, like today.”
On sale were coveted items like The Golden Donkey, by Karim Bringle. Although it's a nod to Damien Hirst’s The Golden Calf, that is where the similarities end. Mr. Brince’s work is an arguably more ambitious piece, an entire live donkey was dipped in a pot of molten gold, making the final object look like a large, spectacular lump of gold. A spokesperson refused to comment on related scandals such as the animal rights protestors camped outside the auction house; and a number of people who declared their rights to a share of the $30 million paid for the artwork, claiming they donated the donkey to Mr. Brince.
Another work on sale was A Collection of Things by popular artist Samir Sandy-Bey in which the artist went to Souq el Gomaa and bought a number of various items.
The center piece of the entire event however was the HyperOne Shopping Cart by an anonymous artist. An outrageously large, dusty minimal steel structure that was commissioned by and parked outside of the shopping mall, the work went for well above its estimated sale price for $2 million, eventually selling to an anonymous buyer for $150 million. A statement issued by the buyer said he was thrilled with the purchase and thought the work was a unique example of how far contemporary art had come, and this work in particular reflected the times with uncanny accuracy and beauty. He considered the purchase a steal. It seemed like the sale made everyone involved happy as the HyperOne director could not believe when the auction house came knocking to ask about the work and is also delighted at the sale of the work for the record-breaking price. He echoed Khalid Ganzabeel’s earlier comments claiming “the sale proved that emerging economies were coming back strong from the financial crisis and had begun to flex their muscles."
Indeed the prices point to the surprising strength of the art market in the region. And it is especially encouraging for the cultural scene in Cairo which looks to reinstate itself as the cultural capital. Nonetheless, it remains to be seen whether or not a successful auction is enough to claw back any of the waning attention.