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Fake pieces of artwork on the rise in Middle east

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Dalloul Art Foundation investigates the authenticity of some Middle Eastern works before museum opening. Lebanon’s Dalloul Art Foundation has placed nearly 30 works it has purchased, worth upward of $1.25m, in quarantine while it tries to establish their authenticity, says its managing director, Basel Dalloul. The move comes as the foundation prepares to open the Museum of Arab Art in Beirut in 2020, which will house its collection of more than 4,000 works by Arab Modern and contemporary artists.


Dalloul Art Foundation with its Director Basel Dalloul


The well-known Beirut art dealer, Saleh Barakat, confirmed that he has agreed to take back several works he sold to Dalloul, including one by the Syrian Modernist Louay Kayyali (1934-78) and two by Lebanon’s Saliba Douaihy (1915-94). Barakat has refunded Dalloul for some of the works, although Barakat declined to provide a figure. The two are working together to establish the authenticity of the works. Barakat said he will respect the Dalloul collection and, as a gallery with a good reputation, they are responsible for anything that comes from us and we will take it back like any respectable gallery.

Douaihy’s widow and daughter’s whereabouts have been a mystery since 1998, Barakat says, but concern is particularly focused on Kayyali work. Barakat said Kayyali is a very important artist for Syrian and Arab modernity and if there is a problem it should be sorted out.


Kayyali’s work of Art


Michael Jeha, the head of Middle Eastern art at Christie’s, confirms that the auction house is also investigating a work by Kayyali bought by Dalloul at auction three years ago, and says it has turned down at least three works by Kayyali for its London auction on 25 October. None are proven fakes, Jeha stresses that at the same time there is no list to show beyond any doubt that its right, and that’s the problem with Kayyali. The lack of literature and expertise has fed concern about Kayyali for a while, Jeha says, keeping prices fairly low, with top works selling for around $150,000. Jeha says that he is a highly faked artist and of all the artists in the region, he has clearly become the most problematic.


The Dalloul collection was ­compiled over 45 years by Basel Dalloul father, the Palestinian businessman Ramzi Dalloul, for an estimated cost of around $100m. Basel Dalloul has consulted the ­Paris-based C.N.E.S. Chambre Nationale des Experts Specialisés about one work by Kayyali that he claimed was created by waxing over a print collage.he says because this collection is ending up in a museum, they take these issues very seriously and don’t want one ending up on a wall that’s a fake. The works in “quarantine” include several by Kayyali, Douaihy and the Lebanese artist Aref Rayess, one by the Iraqi artist Ismail Fattah, and two by Egypt’s Seif Wanly. Dalloul has raised concerns about suspect Kayyali works with two other auction houses and at least one other gallery.


Douaihy’s piece of art


With a lack of archives and literature, the young market for Modern Middle Eastern art is fertile ground for forgeries in light of rising prices. In 2008 at Christie’s Dubai, The Wall (1975) by the Iranian Parviz Tanavoli set an auction record for a Middle Eastern artist when it sold for $2.8 million. Kayyali’s auction record stands at $194,500 with fees, for Fisherman in Arwad (1976) sold at Christie’s Dubai in 2011, while Douaihy’s is $278,500 for Regeneration (1974), also sold at Christie’s Dubai, in 2012.

Sheikh Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, the founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, says he has bought several fake works that have had to be returned. Because of the conflict in the region, whatever documentation there was has often been destroyed. He believes that people have been exploiting the chaos to forge works adding that Syrian and Iraqi artists are the biggest problem.


The Barjeel Art Foundation     


One fake bought by the Barjeel Foundation was allegedly a 1967 work by the Egyptian artist Gazbia Sirry acquired through a gallery in the Middle East which bought it at auction in Sweden. Al Qassimi says that she had been exhibited in Stockholm so it made sense where one of Sirry’s friends took her the catalogue as a present. She said she didn’t paint it. The gallery took the work back. Another, supposedly by wanly, was bought at auction in the Middle East in 2013.

Nonetheless, Al Qassemi believes the situation is not as bad as often made out. He says there is a lot of talk that the Middle East is riddled with fakes, but we have almost 1,000 works in the collection, so to find four or five fakes is not that bad. Everyone in the Middle East is going through a profound learning experience trying to learn what Europe did over 100 years. Foundations have been established for Rayess and Paul Guiragossian, among others, and the first catalogue raisonné for a Middle Eastern artist Mahmoud Said was published in March this year.

However, the curator Rose Issa, who organised a non-selling exhibition of Middle Eastern art at the Beirut Art Fair in September, says more technical expertise is still needed and people who do some minimum scientific work on what is on canvas, what is on paper, how to restore it, where are the signatures.

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