Photo: Ammar abd Rabbo via Flickr
The biggest modern art buyer in the world is not an eccentric billionaire or wealthy gallery owner.It’s the country of Qatar, which has been on an incredible contemporary art buying spree for the past several years, according to The Art Newspaper (via Artinfo).
Not only is the country amassing art at a tremendous speed, it’s also investing heavily in several major projects, including exhibitions by Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami, The Art Newspaper reported.
The Arab emirate also pulled off a major coup earlier this summer when it poached Christie’s chairman Edward Dolman to oversee art acquisitions for the Qatar Museums Authority, according to Artinfo.
Cultural exports to Qatar totaled around $430 million in the period between 2005 and April 2011, The Art Newspaper reported.
Qatar's ruling al-Thani family famously purchased this Rothko painting, titled 'White centre (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose)' at a Sotheby's auction in May 2007.
At the time, the sale set the record for the highest price ever paid for a work of post-war art at auction.
Philippe Ségalot, whose partnership Giraud, Pissarro, Ségalot, is based in Paris and New York, is believed to have negotiated many of the sales of modern art to Qatar, according to The Art Newspaper.
Perhaps the biggest of those sales was Qatar's purchase of the late filmmaker Claude Berri's collection in February after the emirate offered $71.7 million for the works, or nearly twice an estimate of their worth, Artinfo reported.
Qatar was a major purchaser of art from the $900 million collection of New York art dealer Ileana Sonnabend, which included pieces by Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, among other artists.
The deal was privately negotiated in 2007 and 2008 by Philippe Ségalot, according to The Art Newspaper.
Philippe Ségalot also reportedly orchestrated Qatar's acquisition of Warhol's 1962 work, although he has continued to insist that the buyer is located in the U.S., The Art Newspaper reports.
The work was sold at Phillips de Pury in New York in November 2010
Qatar also paid $310 million for 11 Rothkos once owned by J. Ezra Merkin, a financier who is embroiled in the Madoff scandal
Qatar is believed to be the anonymous buyer of 11 Rothko paintings that once hung in the Park Avenue apartment of financier J. Ezra Merkin.
Merkin, who managed several Madoff feeder funds and is currently being sued over his role in the scheme, once owned the largest private Rothko collection in the world.
The paintings were sold for $310 million by a 2009 court order.
Mathaf, which debuted in Doha in December 2010, is the first museum dedicated exclusively to Islamic modern art.
The museum is housed in a former school building and is curated by His Excellency Sheikh Hassan bin Mohammed bin Ali Al Thani, a cousin of the Emir.
It holds over 6,000 works covering all phases of modern art in the Middle East from the 1840s to the present.
Dolman, who had been at Christie's for 27 years, left the auction house in June to work for Qatar's Museums Authority, where he will report directly to the emir's daughter.
The move came after months of speculation that the emir was actually interested in acquiring the entire auction house.
Dolman will work alongside Roger Mandle, who oversees Qatar's growing museum network and was formerly the head of the Rhode Island School of Design.
The emirate also recently commissioned a Richard Serra sculpture for the grounds of the Museum of Islamic Art
In June, Qatar announced that a sculpture by celebrated American artist Richard Serra would grace the grounds of the yet-to-open MIA Park on the grounds of the Museum of Islamic Art.
The sculpture, which has not yet been named, will be Serra's first public artwork in the Middle East.
Architect Jean Nouvel unveiled a futuristic design plan for the upcoming National Museum of Qatar in November 2010.
The museum, which opens in 2013, will showcase Qatar's history and evolution to a modern country.
Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed bin Ali Al-Thani, a second cousin of the ruling emir, was named one of the world's top 10 art collectors for 2011 by Artnews. He has reportedly spent more money on art than any other collector in the past 12 months.
The children of the current emir, who himself is an avid collector, are all heavily involved in the arts as well.
His daughter, Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, chairs the board of the Qatar Museums Authority, and his son, Sheikh Hassan bin Mohammad bin Ali Al-Thani, founded Mathaf, the modern art museum, according to Artinfo.
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