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Saudi artist breaks record at Sotheby’s Middle Eastern art auction in London

Mohammed Al-Saleem’s work has continuously broken records for Saudi art.

Saudi artist breaks record at Sotheby’s Middle Eastern art auction in London
[Source photo: Sotheby's | Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

For decades, the Arab region has been deeply connected to art, showcasing Arab culture and history via the work. The artworks feature stories untold and have gained international recognition. 

In Saudi Arabia, artist Mohammed Al-Saleem was one of the artists who helped push the Saudi art scene. His works blend modernist abstraction alongside traditional elements from daily Saudi life. 

This week, Al-Saleem broke a world record during Sotheby’s 20th Century Art/Middle East sale in London. Inspired by the skyline of Riyadh that stands out among the desert dunes, his untitled work from 1986 was sold at $1.1 million, seven times its pre-sale estimate, while also passing the world record for any Saudi Artist. The artwork is archetypal to Al Saleem’s distinct artistic style known as “Horizonism” or “desert style,” inspired by Riyadh’s skyline from the desert. 

The artists’ previous record of $91,000 was set at Sotheby’s in 2019. 

Alexandra Roy, the auction head, said that the artwork “essentially banishes form and landscape, reimagining the distant dunes of the desert horizon through contained slabs of color, which emerge as if struggling against one another across the surface of the image.” 

“Its layering and shading suggest a search for subtle accords and variations similar to that with which a composer achieves musical harmony, creating an astonishing sense of energy and dynamism,” she added.

The sale was part of a selection of modernist works assembled by Shatha Ibrahim Al-Tassan, founder of Hewar Art Gallery based in Riyadh. Works by Saudi modernists have included pieces by Mounirah Mosly, Abdul Jabbar Al-Yahya, Taha Al-Sabban, and Abdulrahman Al-Soliman and by notable Egyptian, Iraqi, Syrian, Tunisian, and Lebanese artists.

The recent auction of modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art at Sotheby’s London brought the highest total, $5.8 million, since the sale was first introduced as a regular fixture in 2016. 

The auction also saw another record for Lebanese artist Huguette Caland as a painting from 1980 sold for $540,668.

In 2018, Arab, Iranian, and Turkish art was also presented at Sotheby’s 20th Century Art/Middle East auction, which totaled an above-estimate $3,007,979. The sale saw records set for conceptual Emirati artist Mohammed Kazem, leading Emirati artist Hassan Sharif, and Saudi modernist Abdulrahman Al Soliman, among others. 

British auction house Christie’s is also set to sell 48 Arab artworks from the Marhala: Highlights from the Dalloul Collection in London on November 9. The event will take visitors through an immersive journey through modern and contemporary Arab art and history from the 1930s until 2010.

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