Thousands of savvy collectors and flamboyant art dealers flocked to a Dubai art fair this week to snap up top-end cutting-edge art, unscathed by the protracted global credit crunch, the fair organisers said on Friday.
"The contemporary art scene is booming, and Dubai is well positioned to capitalise on this boom," said Benedict Floyd, the co-founder of Art Dubai, the region's only major international art show.
"There is a growing interest from collectors, both private, institutional and corporate, who realise that art, at least in this region, is protected from the financial woes," he told Reuters.
This year's event brings together a record 68 participating galleries from 28 countries, and thousands of art lovers.
Serious collectors are expected to generate turnover of more than $15 million.
Buyers took their pick of Andy Warhol's depiction of cars, sold for $1.95 million, photographs by famous Iranian artist Shirin Neshat for more than $300,000, and a Julian Opie piece for $62,000.
Dubai, the Gulf's commercial heart, is increasingly attracting contemporary artists, especially from neighbouring Iran and South Asia, as exhibition venues multiply.
Zero import and export taxes for art, and a free flow of capital has already seen the emirate become a possible rival to Hong Kong, the world's third most important art auction hub behind New York and London.
International art fairs in Asia and the Middle East have helped fuel demand for modern art.
This year for instance, both Tokyo and Hong Kong will launch new events modelled along hip fairs such as Art Basel and London's Frieze.
"In the face of a possible international downturn in the financial markets, the global art market is looking to the emerging markets of the Middle East and South Asia to keep it fuelled," said John Martin, director of Art Dubai.
"The growth of the region's finance sector is creating a new generation of young, highly-educated collectors."
Indeed, art galleries have mushroomed in Dubai and a healthy competition has developed with Abu Dhabi, which is building five art and culture centres on Saadiyat Island.
Those centres will include a branch of the Louvre and the Guggenheim, with buildings designed by leading architects including Frank Gehry.
"Maybe two years ago if you tried to associate Dubai as a commercial art centre, you would have met with scepticism, " Floyd said.
"Now the idea of Dubai becoming a rival art centre to cities like London and New York is a pertinent question. We still have a lot of potential to tap here." (Reuters)
Middle East's biggest art fair draws crowds, top names