A Cryptocurrency Entrepreneur Just Bought the World’s Largest Painting, by Artist Sacha Jafri, for a Whopping $62 Million
The artist painted the work in a hotel ballroom while stuck in Dubai during lockdown.
Last fall, Sacha Jafri set a Guinness World Record for the world’s largest painting, titled The Journey of Humanity. Now, he’s sold it at auction for an equally large price: $62 million. The figure makes him the fourth-most expensive living artist—behind Jeff Koons, David Hockney, and digital artist Beeple.
The proceeds of the sale of the painting, which approaches Beeple’s headline-making $69 million NFT sale from earlier this month, are set to benefit Dubai Cares, Unicef, UNESCO, and the Global Gift Foundation, according to ARTnews.
The eye-popping figure comes at a moment when unfamiliar names are drawing heftier public prices than longtime blue-chip figures like Gerhard Richter and Damien Hirst. The demand has been driven largely by cryptocurrency-flush investors. The buyer of Jafri’s work is French crypto businessman Andre Abdoune.
Painting the piece, which measures 17,000 square feet—covering an area roughly equal to six tennis courts, four basketball courts, or two football fields—took Jafri eight months, sometimes working 20 hours a day at the Atlantis, the Palm hotel in Dubai, while it was in lockdown.
“I was stuck in Dubai and I wanted to create something poignant, something that would mean something,” Jafri told CNN.
The record-setting finished product was verified by Guinness as the “Largest Art Canvas” in September and unveiled in February, with 40 of 70 sections of the painting on view at Leila Heller Gallery in Dubai. (The artist did not respond to Artnet News’s request for comment by press time.)
“I met Sacha three years ago in Dubai at an event,” Leila Heller told Artnet News in an email. “I had always admired him for his charitable spirit, especially his helping children’s causes around the world. When he approached me earlier this fall to host his exhibition and help him in spreading his philanthropic vision, I absolutely did not hesitate.”
Jafri purports to have already raised $60 million for charity through the sale of his art over his 18-year career, reports Emirati outlet the National. His collectors include US president Barack Obama, members of the British royal family, Richard Branson, Paul McCartney, David Beckham, George Clooney, and Eva Longoria.
This painting is inspired by children’s artwork, with Jafri soliciting drawings from kids around the world about their experiences during the pandemic. The 44-year-old artist got submissions from over 140 countries, addressing themes of both isolation and connection.
“I was in a deep meditative state. I looked through all the [children’s] work—I paint from the subconscious…. There’s no sketches. There were no drawings,” Jafri told the BBC. “I was literally pouring paint, and then putting another layer on top and another layer, another layer, another layer, just feeling my way through it until something magical happened.”
It was also physically demanding work, with the artist constantly bending over to paint on the floor of the hotel ballroom. Jafri injured his pelvis and feet, and had to have emergency spine surgery. Still, he persisted, with the ultimate goal of raising $30 million for charity.
In the end, Jafri more than doubled that total thanks to the buyer, Abdoune, the chief executive of Altius Gestion International Holding. At the auction held at the Palm, he agreed to purchase the entire piece, which Jafri had originally planned to sell in 70 smaller sections across four auctions.
“I come from a poor family, and I knew at times how it feels to have nothing to eat,” Abdoune told Agence France Presse. “The painting was very powerful when I saw it, and, for me, it would have been a mistake to separate the pieces.”
Adboune plans to build a museum to house the painting, and to set up a charitable foundation with Jafri, according to the BBC.
Previously, Jafri’s high-water mark at auction was just TWD$2.16 million ($70,745), for a 2019 auction at Ravenel in Taiwan, according to the Artnet Price Database. That painting, of course, was measured in inches, not sports facilities.
“Sacha Jafri: 18 Year Retrospective Collection” is on view at Leila Heller Gallery, Dubai I-87, Alserkal Avenue, January 21–May 29, 2021.
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