Massive spending spree undertaken by royal family ahead of 2022 World Cup football tournament
Pills are placed into the Damien Hirst artwork Lullaby Spring which has been bought by the Qatari royal family. Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
The tiny emirate of Qatar has become the world’s biggest art buyer after a massive spending spree by the royal family to enhance its cultural portfolio before the 2022 World Cup. Research by the Art Newspaper has revealed that Qatar has been responsible for the bulk of contemporary and modern art purchases over the past six years, including work by Andy Warhol and Mark Rothko.
Last month the chairman of Christie’s, Edward Dolman, resigned from the auction house to become an adviser to Qatar’s museum authority. He will handle acquisitions for new museums including the National Museum of Qatar, designed by Jean Nouvel, due to open in 2014. “Qatar is looking to deliver a series of exciting cultural projects in time for the World Cup in 2022,” Dolman told the Art Newspaper.
The Arab Museum of Modern Art opened in Doha last year, two years after the Museum of Islamic Art, designed by IM Pei, was inaugurated. Nouvel’s National Museum of Qatar, a futuristic complex of buildings inspired by a desert rose, will be the most prestigious project of all. With money to spend, the Qatari royal family is investing heavily in contemporary western art to attract cultural tourists.
The emirate was named cultural destination of the year two years ago by the New York Times. It has spent almost $430m (£267m) on cultural imports from the US alone in the past six years.
A major collector is Sheikha al-Mayassa Bint Hamad Al Thani, daughter of the emir, who chairs the museums authority. In 2007 she bought Rothko’s White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose) for an estimated $70m. The royal family has also purchased work by Francis Bacon and Damien Hirst’s Lullaby Spring (for £9.7m).
Another royal, Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed bin Ali al-Thani, has been named by Artnews as one of the world’s top 200 art collectors.