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03 October 2023

Bonhams: UAE to be a 'hub of culture'

By Adrian Murphy




International auction house Bonhams was founded in London in 1793 by antique print dealer Thomas Dodd and book specialist Walter Bonham. The auction house had worldwide gross sales of $500 million (Dh1.8 billion) in 2006.
Bonhams will be holding its first Middle East sale in Dubai at the One and Only Royal Mirage Ballroom from March 2 to 4.  Emirates Business asked
Matthew Girling, CEO of Bonhams European and Middle East, what the sale says about the UAE art scene.

What was it that attracted Bonhams to the UAE?

I think it is quite clearly going to be a hub in terms of art and cultural-related centres. One reason is that the leaders of Abu Dhabi and Dubai want it to be a hub and once you get the infrastructure set up you will then get the dealers and auction houses coming, which is what's happening now. I think that another reason is that the people who live here and have made their money here - once they have bought the car and the home - want to start using that money to buy artwork and furniture.

How does this sale compare to the sales you hold in cities like London?

From a pictures point of view we have had Indian and Pakistani paintings before. One of our strengths in London is that we can attract this kind of art. But we have never had sales in London of modern
and contemporary Arabic art [the Dubai sale will have more than 100 Arab, Iranian, Indian and Pakistani paintings as well as watches and jewellery]. The watches and jewellery part of the sale

will not differ much.

How do you think your first Middle East sale will be received?

As it will be our first sale here in the UAE, it means we will be learning each step of the way. But Christie's has had three sales and we have looked closely at those and where they have had their success so we are confident that ours will be successful.

How do you see the UAE's potential for having a fine art market?

I mentioned the possibility of having an office here eight years ago. It was in no way a knee-jerk reaction because Christie's had already held sales. But we have done our research and we are confident that the UAE is destined to become a world player in the fine art market.

What plans do you have for the future in the UAE?

We will open our first offices in Dubai by the end of January the purpose of which is to give people easy access to an international auction house. Here they can pick up a Bonhams catalogue and speak with our people directly. We also hope to hold more sales from this point on.

What do you think of the plans to bring branches of the Guggenheim and Louvre to the UAE?

My perception of what is happening here is that it has long been a place where people have come to do business and is now becoming this amazing place for leisure activities outside of that. You have the sporting facilities, beaches, shopping and theatres. Now with the introduction of more museums and art sales another tier has been added. I think it's great.