Qatar revealed as the world’s biggest contemporary art buyer
The small, energy-rich state is behind most of the major modern and contemporary art deals over the past six years
By Georgina Adam and Charlotte Burns. News, Issue 226, July-August 2011
Published online: 07 July 2011
DOHA. The small but energy-rich Gulf state of Qatar is the world’s biggest buyer in the art market—by value, at any rate—and is behind most of the major modern and contemporary art deals over the past six years, The Art Newspaper can reveal.
Working through a number of advisors, as well as buying directly from dealers and at auction, Qatar is reliably believed to be building up a top-class collection of modern and contemporary art. Last month, Sheikha Al Mayassa Bint Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani—the 27-year-old daughter of the Emir of Qatar and a driving force behind the country’s art buying—announced that Christie’s chairman, Edward Dolman, will become executive director of her office. Dolman will also join the board of trustees of the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA), which oversees museums and cultural initiatives in the country and which the Sheikha chairs.
Sheikha Al Mayassa is not the only art collector in the family: her relative Sheikh Saud Bin Muhammad Bin Ali Al-Thani has always been a passionate art buyer, and was recently named as one of the world’s top ten collectors by Artnews.
Dolman will be working on art acquisitions for the growing network of museums, which are directed by the art historian and former head of the Rhode Island School of Design, Roger Mandle. According to Dolman: “Qatar is looking to deliver a series of exciting cultural projects in time for the World Cup in 2022.”
Because of the existence of confidentiality agreements, dealers and auctioneers are not prepared to go on the record about the deals that Qatar has made, but we have spoken to many well-placed sources in a position to know.
A key figure is the French agent Philippe Ségalot, whose partnership Giraud, Pissarro, Ségalot (GPS) is based in Paris and New York. Ségalot is believed to have negotiated many of the sales of modern art to Qatar. In the contemporary field, Qatar has already commissioned a major project from Richard Serra, is planning a Jeff Koons exhibition and funded the Takashi Murakami exhibition in Versailles last year, which is due to be shown in Doha in 2012. Mandle is understood to be responsible for commissioning contemporary works.
Among the purchases Qatar is believed to have made are:
• The “Merkin Rothkos”: A $310m deal saw 11 Rothkos sold by court order to an “unidentified buyer” in 2009. They came from the collection of financier J. Ezra Merkin, who is being sued in New York over his role as provider of funds to convicted Ponzi-scheme fraudster Bernard Madoff; the collection was the largest private holding of Rothkos in the world. They were subsequently exhibited at the Garage Centre in Moscow, leading to rumours that they had been bought by the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, which was strenuously denied. Two very well placed sources maintain that they have gone to Qatar.
• The Sonnabend estate: $400m worth of art from the estate of the famous art dealer, comprising major works by Lichtenstein and Koons. The deal was negotiated privately in 2007-08, going to GPS; multiple sources identified its client as Qatar. Ségalot told us that “the group was sold to more than one client”.
• The Claude Berri dation: A group of nine works by Ryman, Reinhardt, Morandi, Serra and Fontana was promised to the Pompidou Centre in Paris in lieu of tax. But the heirs of the film director finally sold them through Ségalot for about €50m to Qatar; he did not deny this but said “the reality was less exotic than the French press said at the time”.
• Andy Warhol’s The Men in Her Life, 1962, which sold for $63.4m at Phillips de Pury in New York in November 2010, in a sale orchestrated by Philippe Ségalot. He insists that the work was acquired by a US buyer. But a source who bought regularly from Ségalot said that sales often went through his US company, so while the buyer was technically American, the end owner could be of any nationality.
US statistics indicate that cultural exports to Qatar totalled $428,162,894 in the period 2005 to April 2011, with a spike of $250.5m in 2007, the year Qatar bought the “Rockefeller” Rothko, White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose), 1950, for $72.8m. From 2005 to 2011 (first four months), Qatar imported £128,237,671 worth of paintings and antiques over 100 years old from the UK (over £21m for paintings and over £87.1m for antiques), according to trade statistics. Qatar bought Damien Hirst’s Lullaby Spring, 2002, for £9.2m at auction in London in 2007.
As well as these major acquisitions, Qatar has been buying widely at lower levels and in other fields. It spent £555,000 on William Hoare of Bath’s Portrait of Diallo, 1733, (export denied from the UK; on loan to the National Portrait Gallery, London), and $2.3m on Mahmoud Said’s Les Chadoufs, 1934 (now in Mathaf, Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha). Official Qatari sources declined to comment on our findings.
Additional research by Riah Prior
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