The mysterious entrepreneur who paid $ 62 million for the world’s largest painting project to open a museum dedicated to it in Dubai
In a ballroom at the Atlantis Hotel on an artificial Dubai archipelago, British artist Sacha Jafri has made history. On March 24, he sold his work The journey of humanity for $ 62 million, making it the second most expensive painting ever to be auctioned by a living artist. The prize isn’t the only grand part: At 17,000 square feet, the equivalent of four NBA-regulated basketball courts, the painting won the Guinness World Record for Largest Canvas Art.
On a normal day in a normal year, such a mind-boggling price would immediately make waves around the world. But the sale came less than two weeks after an NFT by digital artist Beeple grossed $ 69 million at Christie’s, and the art world seems only able to deal with a single historic price secured by a relatively unknown artist at the same time.
Now, new details only serve to make the sale – which was sold to benefit children around the world affected by the pandemic – to look more extraordinary.
The buyer of the work, Franco-Algerian businessman André Abdoune, plans to build a museum in Dubai to house it. Sources tell Artnet News that the Dubai government should provide land for the institution, although neither Jafri nor the government has confirmed this at press time.
The sale was a high-powered affair, with backing and promotion by figures including Deepak Chopra, American actress Eva Longoria and Iraqi-American makeup artist Huda Kattan. The profits went to Unicef, Unesco, the Global Gift Foundation and Dubai Cares.
The event was not without controversy. “It’s all money laundering,” joked an art collector in Dubai the morning after the sale.
The auction, held in a posh ballroom at the five-star Atlantis the Palm Jumeirah resort, was originally scheduled to be hosted by Sotheby’s, but the auction house pulled out at the eleventh hour. (The Sotheby’s logo, which was imprinted on all dates except the dates, remained in place for the duration of the sale.)
Behind the scenes, accounts differ as to what exactly caused the partnership to collapse. A source said Sotheby’s was disheartened that prior media coverage had described it as a “Sotheby’s sale.” Another source said the house had been scared off by rumors that buyers had made offers in advance, which could have made the sale appear fixed without the proper disclosures. “Sotheby’s Dubai told us that ‘London would not let us go ahead’ and so they withdrew,” the second source said.
Sotheby’s official line is that it was simply a matter of staff availability. “Where we can, Sotheby’s often provides charity auctioneers to wave the hammer on behalf of worthy causes around the world,” said a spokesperson. “In this case, the request for an auctioneer came at the last minute and we were ultimately unable to move forward.”
Jafri, 44, a must-have for his uniform of cowboy boots and paint-splattered blue jeans, has long raised his eyebrows. A British painter who attended Eton College and Oxford University, he makes a living from his art but directs the majority of sales to charity, particularly in the area of child welfare.
After operating as a lone wolf for most of his career, he recently started working with the Leila Heller Gallery in New York and Dubai. A solo exhibition of work spanning his 18-year career is on display at the Dubai Gallery until June. Ten works have sold to date at prices ranging from $ 75,000 to $ 2 million, according to Heller.
“I do things my way,” Jafri told Artnet News. “I work with galleries but I don’t sign gallery contracts. If I sign at the gallery, I have no control over who buys my paintings. I want them to be shared and seen widely. He counts George Clooney, Barack Obama, Madonna, Richard Branson and Leonardo DiCaprio among his collectors.
The artist says he has raised more than $ 130 million for charities to date, including the sale of The journey of humanity as well as two works for around $ 8 million at an auction in Dubai last month to support a government initiative to deliver 100 million meals during the month of Ramadan.
Jafri worked on The journey of humanity for eight months at the Atlantis Hotel during the height of the global lockdown. He originally planned to sell it in 70 smaller pieces, but several collectors came up with offers to buy the entire piece.
The successful tenderer, Abdoune, is not a household name in art collector circles. He bought items here and there at auctions in Paris, but nothing of the scale or price of Jafri’s work.
Jafri and Abdoune had met by chance during an opening at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris in 2019. The following year, Abdoune was in Dubai to buy a new villa and his broker advised him to see Jafri’s painting. at Atlantis. “I love art and collect a lot of things, but I have no knowledge of art – I’m just with my feelings when I buy an artwork,” Abdoune said.
The 50-year-old was immediately moved to tears. “I felt I had seen the painting before,” he told Artnet News. “It was as if I had met ‘that one’.” Jafri says Abdoune returned every day for five straight days, four hours each time. He felt devastated that the work would be broken into pieces.
The charitable side of the project also moved Abdoune, who has not been able to see his two children since his acrimonious divorce several years ago. The French businessman of Algerian origin grew up in a poor family in Paris who rarely had enough to eat. Abdoune, who now lives between Paris and Dubai, made his fortune through stock market trading before buying the industrial company Altius Gestion International Holding and engage in cryptocurrency trading. He says his assets are now “mostly bitcoin,” although he paid for Jafri’s work in cash.
Abdoune said he had not pre-bid and traveled to Atlantis feeling nervous. The first bid for the entire coin was just over $ 30 million; Abdoune entered the fray at $ 50 million.
The entrepreneur intends his future museum to be similar to the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas, a place to contemplate art and human rights. In addition to housing Jafri’s Guinness World Record masterpiece, the space will host dormitories where children with special needs, refugees and orphans can attend art workshops with Jafri.
“I surrendered and have faith in the universe and believed that all this painting deserves is what’s going to happen,” Jafri said. “Anyone can paint a brushstroke, but it is this intention that pervades you that makes the difference.”
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