$1.6 million worth of art auctioned for Syrian refugee children

$1.6 million worth of art auctioned for Syrian refugee children
Syrian refugee children attend class at a school for refugee children in Istanbul October 21, 2013.

BEIRUT - An estimated $1.3 million (S$1.6m) worth of art from more than 130 artists, mostly from Syria and Lebanon, is being auctioned at below-gallery prices in Beirut to raise money for Syrian refugee children.

"This is first time that you have so many artists from the Middle East mobilize for a cause," said Noura Jumblatt, president of the Lebanese Beiteddine festival and wife of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.

"We had more offers but we had to limit ourselves," she told Reuters in her office, which was filled with thousands of dollars worth of bubble-wrapped art ready for a live auction on November 8th in Beirut.

About half of Syria's two million war refugees are children, according to the United Nations. At least 100,000 people have died in nearly three years of conflict.

Many have fled to Lebanon and live in appalling conditions - in tents or abandoned buildings, with limited food, medicine, clothing and education.

Artists donating work include the Lebanese Nabil Nahas, who regularly exhibits in New York, and Ayman Baalbaki, who has given a broad-brush painting of a man wearing a red and white headscarf.

Iraqi, Egyptian, Iranian and European artists have also joined the effort.

Much of the work is now being auctioned on Paddle8, a US-based auctioning site, with reserves that are below gallery prices, Jumblatt said.

Paddle 8 spokeswoman Sarah Goulet said the art work is estimated at $1.3 million  (S$1.6m) but their online benefit auctions on average exceed their estimates by 20-30 per cent.

A total of $250,000 was bid in the first two days of the two week auction, she said in an email.

"Bidding has been extremely brisk," she said.

Paddle8 takes a 5-7 per cent commission on benefit auctions.

The Baalbaki piece had a bid at $9,000 on Saturday but he sold an acrylic painting at Sotheby's this April for $377,000.

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