This Tiny Arab Kingdom Has Emerged As The World's Leading Modern Art Collector

qatar palm trees walk

Photo: Flickr/Larry Johnson

The art world is buzzing today with news that the country of Qatar recently spent more than $250 million to acquire Paul Cézanne’s The Card Players.The price absolutely smashes previous records for expensive works of art. But it’s no huge surprise that the record-breaking purchase should have been made by oil-rich Qatar, which, in the past few years, has quietly become the world’s biggest buyer of modern art.

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 last summer when it poached Christie’s chairman Edward Dolman to oversee art acquisitions for the Qatar Museums Authority.

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.

This French agent has negotiated many private sales for Qatar

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.

Including the purchase of around $400 million in art from the estate of a famed New York art dealer

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 reportedly 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.

The country financed the Takashi Murakami ­exhibition in Versailles last year; it's coming to Qatar next week

A major exhibit of art by Japan's Takashi Murakami that was unveiled at France's Palace of Versailles in September was funded by Qatar.

The exhibit is opening at the Qatar Museum next week.

Qatar opened Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art at the end of 2010

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.

In June, it poached Christie's chairman Edward Dolman

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 commissioned a Richard Serra sculpture for the grounds of the Museum of Islamic Art

Richard Serra's '7' was unveiled at a park on the grounds of the Museum of Islamic Art in early January.

The massive steel structure is the artist's first commissioned work in the Middle East, and at 24 meters is his tallest work to date, according to the New York Times.

Acclaimed artist Damien Hirst is also planning an exhibit in Qatar

A major exhibition by famed artist Damien Hirst is scheduled to open at Doha's Museum of Islamic Art in 2013, The Art Newspaper reports.

The Qatar Museums Authority is also sponsoring a Hirst retrospective at London's Tate Modern this spring, but the events will be completely separate, a representative for QMA told The Art Newspaper.

The National Museum of Qatar, itself a modern masterpiece, is expected to open in 2013

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.

The Qatari royal family is known for its voracious appetite for art

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. She was recently named 'the most powerful person in the art world' by Art + Auction.

With the acquisition of Cézanne's 'The Card Players,' Qatar cements itself as a leader in the world of modern art collecting

Qatar apparently outbid two major gallerists to buy the painting from Greek shipping magnate George Embiricos, Vanity Fair reported.

The price is more than double the previous record of $106 million for a painting sold at auction. And while some famous works have privately exchanged hands for as much as $150 million, the price Qatar paid for The Card Players absolutely blows away previous records.

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