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Iranian Art Sales Flourish Despite Financial Woes

  • Andy Edwards

Paintings from Sohrab Sepehri's 'Tree Trunks' series will be up for auction, Oct. 3, 2011 (courtesy of Sotheby's).

Paintings from Sohrab Sepehri's 'Tree Trunks' series will be up for auction, Oct. 3, 2011 (courtesy of Sotheby's).

The vibrancy of Iranian art and its current position in the world art market go under the gavel in the London auction rooms of Sotheby’s on Tuesday. The sale highlights a growing interest in Iran’s artists and how they have drawn upon various influences of lives spent away from their native land.

Whereas uncertainty in world financial markets have had an impact on international art sales, Sotheby’s Roxane Zand says interest in contemporary Iranian art is holding strong.

"We find that the market has held quite stable and that the prices are healthy and robust," she says. "Like many other areas of art, we have seen a rise in prices in the past, [but] at the moment we see a great deal more stability and we think that this particular sale in London is going to do very well indeed."

One of the leading figures to be shown will be painter and poet Sohrab Sepehri, who died in Tehran in 1980. His “Tree Trunks” series, a key work painted in New York in 1970, reflects on his time spent in Japan a decade before.

Bahman Mohasses's 'Untitled.'

Bahman Mohasses's 'Untitled.'

Sepehri's work, Zand says, was enormously influenced by study and travel abroad, and his New York stint was motivated by a desire to find tranquility among the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. Conversely, his contemporary Bahman Mohasses, who died last year, produced a harsh realism when living in Rome. “Untitled,” a Mohasses piece that portrays an almost grotesque, epicene figure perched on the gunwale of a small boat, is emblematic of his style.

"Mohasses always mentioned that his aesthetic lay in ugliness and that he saw and explored a different aesthetic," says Zand, describing him as a modern master whose recent death has only focused more attention on his work.

Hadieh Shafie's '10450 Pages.'

Hadieh Shafie's '10450 Pages.'

The contemporary works of Hadieh Shafie, recently nominated for the 2011 Jameel Prize, tap roots of Islamic arts and design while drawing comparisons to the iconic Jasper Johns. One of the most distinctive works to go on sale, "10450 Pages" - ink and paint on tightly-bound scrolls of paper - gives a clue to her approach. "She’s very interested in process-oriented work and repetition and the patterns that are caused by that which in turn finds its routes in traditional Iranian art," says Zand.

Naveed Noor's 'The Eye Codex of The Monochrome Series.'

Naveed Noor's 'The Eye Codex of The Monochrome Series.'

Works by German-born Iranian Naveed Nour, who exhibited at this year's Venice Biennale, also invoke achievements of major art-world figures. One piece from "The Eye Codex of The Monochrome Series" - a project completed over 26 years that critics compare to the works of Anish Kapoor and Mark Rothko - is set to go on sale.

With six-figure sums anticipated for some items, including Sohrab Sepehri’s "Tree Trunks," the financial profile of Iran’s contemporary art market is likely to match the range and vigor of works about to go on the block in London.

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