Why The Qatar Royals Rule The Contemporary Art World

With money to burn who can compete with this family’s ambition to create the 21st centuries greatest art collection?

In the last half century, the Qatari royal family has become a formidable force in the art world. In 2007 they bought Hirst’s Lullaby Spring pill cabinet for almost £9.65m – then the highest price ever paid for a work by a living artist –, and last year they were responsible for the most expensive contemporary lots at both Christies and Sothebys, paying £24m for a Roy Lichtenstein at the former and £39m for a Clyfford Still at the latter. And, they have shelled out even more in private transactions, recently bagging Paul Cézanne’s The Card Players for an incredible £160m – the highest price ever paid for a piece of art. Now they are sponsoring the forthcoming Damien Hirst retrospective at Tate Modern, opening on Monday.

It was reported in The Economist on 31 March that, while Sheikh Hassan has been buying 20th-century Arabic painting, Sheikh Saud has been hunting out and purchasing the very best illuminated manuscripts, carpets, scientific instruments and Mughal jewellery. These acquisitions now on display in the Doha Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) – now widely considered to be one of the best specialist museums of its kind in the world.

And this isn’t just about mindless private acquisition, with the royal family conceptualising their collecting as a public endeavour. Sheikha Mayassa, as the head of the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA), has worked tirelessly to turn Qatar into a global cultural centre; ‘Above all, we want the QMA to be a ‘cultural instigator’, a catalyst of arts projects worldwide,’ a spokesperson says.

Sheikha Mayassa explains: ‘The QMA is very much my father’s baby. He wanted to create something…to connect with the community, to create a culture dialogue within society. We report directly to him. The nice thing about my father is that he doesn’t interfere in the day-to-day business. We present the strategy, and once he agrees with the strategy and the vision we are given the authority and freedom to go ahead and execute them in the way we think fit.’

So where does all this money come from? Well, it’s all thanks discovery of oil and the third-largest gas reserves in the world. As a result, from economic obscurity in the 1980s, Qutar’s economy grew faster than any other, by 16.6%, so that its miniature population would, by 2010, would have the third highest per capita GDP in the world!

(source Material The Economist)

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