Monday 22 July 2013

Qatar Currently Building Encyclopaedic Museum Collections

A New York Times article notes with apparent suspicion that Qatar ("a tiny Persian Gulf country with enormous wealth and cultural ambitions to match") is "buying art at a level never seen before":
“They’re the most important buyers of art in the market today,” said Patricia G. Hambrecht, the chief business development officer for Phillips auction house. “The amount of money being spent is mind-boggling.” The purchasing is directed through intermediaries by Sheika al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, chairwoman of the Qatar Museums Authority and a sister to Qatar’s new emir. At age 30 she has become one of the most influential players in the art world. 
Sheika al Mayassa (Mozah) is reported to have a budget somewhere about $1 billion a year to spend on purchases by the museum authority, of which she was named chairwoman by her father, the former emir, in 2006. The Qataris have used it to secure from dealers and at auction "a host of undisputed modern and contemporary masterpieces by Francis Bacon, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons". Art experts say the sheika is trying to amass the best of the best, whatever the price. Leila Heller, a New York dealer suggests that  Sheika al Mayassa “wants to make Doha a hub for art in the region, where people don’t necessarily have to fly to New York and to Paris and to L.A. to see great shows. Doha has an ambitious plan of opening close to 20 museums of different kinds”. Other items are also flowing into Qatar, readers may remember the Prospero Collection of ancient coins ('Buyer of Prospero Collection Coins Reportedly Having Trouble Paying' 18 November 2012 see here: Saud bin Muhammed Al Thani for the background). Sheika al Mayassa is quoted as indicating the role art will play in Qatar’s future: 
“We are revising ourselves through our cultural institutions and cultural development [...] Art becomes a very important part of our national identity.” In an interview that year with The New York Times, the sheika suggested that establishing art institutions might challenge Western preconceptions about Muslim societies. “My father often says, in order to have peace, we need to first respect each other’s cultures,” she said. “And people in the West don’t understand the Middle East. They come with Bin Laden in their heads.” 
And the crux for the NYT article:
American art institutions could be expected to be frustrated to see so many important pieces leaving the United States. But some museum executives say that’s just how it goes. “Sure, there are lots of works of art that we have absolutely wanted,” said Glenn D. Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art. “But if Rothko and de Kooning and Kline, among others, end up circulating in Moscow, Qatar and Shanghai, that’s not so bad — it’s a projection of American culture and importance that is meaningful.”
 The dugup dealers' lobbyist Peter Tompa makes however the suggestion that American dealers should be cut some slack over importing illegally exported antiquities and works of art now the US does not play such a dominant role in the art market ('Qatar and Other Newly Rich Countries Change Market Dynamics', Tuesday, July 23, 2013). "It's also well known the Gulf Arabs also have a taste for high quality antiquities" he whines, and if the industry is forced to concentrate only on legally obtained material, the US will no longer be so competative.

Source: Robin Pogrebin, 'Qatari Riches Are Buying Art World Influence', New York Times, July 22, 2013.

Vignette: Qatar.

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