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The art of investment

  • Story Highlights
  • Art investment is one of the biggest growth areas in the Middle East
  • Auction houses such as Christie's, Sotheby's and Bonham's hold sales there
  • The region is putting money back into culture and the arts with new galleries
  • Next Article in World Business »
By Peter Sorel-Cameron
For CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Despite the credit crunch and rising inflation in the Gulf, the region has found a new passion for investing. And one of the biggest growth markets at the moment is modern art.

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Works by prominent Middle Eastern artists like Shirin Neshat are on display in the region.

It has long been the mainstay of European and American investors, linked to the wealth of popular artists based in the western world, but in recent years the Middle East has started to see a rise in the number of original pieces being made there.

As the output from the region increases, so does the interest in it, and therefore prices are rising, and certain early investors are making a killing.

One of the first big signs the region was becoming ripe for art investment was when, in May 2006, the internationally renowned auction house Christie's held its first auction sale in the Middle East, at its Dubai sales room.

The sale, which offered 120 works of art, including many from the Middle East, saw a total of $8.5 million change hands, proving that this was a market ready to be tapped.

Since then Christie's has held more auctions, and over the course of 2007, sales in the Dubai office have seen 340 works of art sold for a total of $24,653,285.

Last year the British based auction house did a major survey of operations in the Gulf, and found the region's appetite for art to be growing at a dramatic rate. 90 percent of the respondents had visited a museum or gallery and 60 percent had bought a piece of artwork. Video Watch Middle East investors show an interest in art »

It is clear the Middle Eastern art market is burgeoning, as other auction houses try to match the pace set by Christie's -- Sotheby's has held sales in the UAE and Bonham's has just held its inaugural show for the region in Dubai, at which Farhad Moshiri became the first Iranian artist to sell a piece of their work for more than $1 million.

Michael Jeha, the managing director of Christie's in the Middle East spoke to CNN and offered a possible reason for the sudden surge in spending on art in the region: "The Middle East is booming, oil prices soaring, there is so much excess liquidity that people are looking for other areas to spend and (put) their money beyond property stock markets."

The development the region is seeing is directly linked to the explosion of investment in local art. And in some cases the development itself is intended to improve the culture in the Middle East and people's access to it.

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On Saadiyat Island, off the coast of Abu Dhabi, there is a major development taking place, which is due to be completed in 2018. Part of this will be new branches of two of the world's most famous art galleries, the Louvre and the Guggenheim.

With galleries like this opening the people of the Middle East will have much better access to western art, and there will be a greater opportunity for the big names coming out of the Gulf to be displayed alongside the established European masters. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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