Major collectors and new museums in the Middle East

Focus on Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman



Population: 2.8m

GDP: $58.3bn (with an 8% growth rate).

Major collectors: The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al Sabah, donated $6.5m in 2006-07 to help establish a new Islamic wing at the Louvre (set to open in 2009) and $1.3m to the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. He heads a family that has assembled one of the largest collections of Islamic art in the world.

The Emir’s nephew, Sheikh Nasser Al Sabah and his wife Sheikha Hussah, director of the House of Islamic Antiquities wing of the Kuwait National Museum, are major collectors of Islamic art, frequently loaning works to exhibitions at institutions such as the Louvre.

Tareq Sayed Rajab, former director of the department of antiquities and museums of Kuwait, houses his collection of over 30,000 items in his own museum in Kuwait City. Siblings Ghazi and Hajat Sultan set up the Sultan Gallery in 1969; their sister Farida now runs the space, and continues collecting modern and contemporary Arab art.

New museums: The Al Sabah family collection, housed at the National Museum of Kuwait since 1983, was looted by Saddam Hussein’s troops during the 1990 Gulf war. Most of the objects were recovered and have been re-catalogued. The Al Sabah family are now planning a new museum, and have been inviting international architects to the site.


Population: 698,585

GDP: $12.12bn (with a 7.6% growth rate).

Major collectors: Former Minister of Cabinet Affairs, Mohammed bin Ibrahim Al Mutawa, is a major patron and collector of modern Arab art.

Former government officer Dr Abdul Latif Jassim Kanoo’s vast collection forms the basis of the Beit Al Qur’an museum of Islamic manuscripts, while other members of the family, including Khalid Kanoo, collect modern and contemporary work.

Sheikha Mai Bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, the Assistant Undersecretary for Culture and Heritage, collects modern and contemporary Arab art and is responsible for a number of new heritage museums.

Members of the Fakhro family, including Jamal Fakhro of KPMG Fakhro (a financial advisory service) and his artist wife Lubna Al Ameen, collect contemporary Arab art.

The key contemporary galleries, Al Riwaq, run by the dynamic collector-curator Bayan Al Barak Kanoo, and Hayfa Al Jishi’s Albareh, both have collections of contemporary Arab art.

New museums: The government has set aside land and funds for a Bahrain Art Museum. No architect is confirmed yet, but Zaha Hadid visited the site in February.


Population: 885,359

GDP: $30.76bn (with a 7.1% growth rate).

Major collectors: Members of the ruling Al Thani family collect across the board, for private collections and for the state museums and have assembled one of the finest collections of Islamic art in the world. The former head of the National Council for Culture, Arts and Heritage, Sheikh Saud announced the construction of five major museums for Qatar in 2004. He was then arrested and investigated for suspected misuse of public funds and his brother, Sheikh Hassan Al Thani, is now vice-president of the newly-established Authority of Museums of Qatar.

New museums: The museum building programme has been scaled back since Sheikh Saud’s dismissal. Plans for a National Library designed by Arata Isozaki have now been cancelled and a Photography Museum designed by Santiago Calatrava also appears to have stalled. However, construction of I.M. Pei’s Islamic Art Museum is proceeding with the opening set for September 2007.

Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser Al-Misned’s Qatar Foundation is still planning to open a major Arab Art Museum, likely to be designed by Rafael Viñoly.

Saudi Arabia

Population: 27m

GDP: $286.2bn (with a 5.9% growth rate).

Major collectors: Saudi Arabia has its high-profile collectors and philanthropists, such as Prince Al-Walid Bin Talal, who donated $21m to the Louvre in 2006, and the Jameel family, who through the company Hartwell, donated $8.6m to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in July 2006 for the revamp of its Islamic Galleries. Younger members of the Jameel family have been active at Christie’s auctions in Dubai.

Other families with notable collections include the Alirezas, owners of the Xenel conglomerate, who run the Start charity foundation. Abdullah and Dina Aziz are part of a new generation that collect contemporary artists.

Reportedly, there are “multiple collectors and dozens of museums in private homes” but the closed nature of Saudi Arabia means that these remain private.

New museums: The govern?ment of the more liberal city Jeddah has shown interest in creating public museums. Mayor Adel Faqeeh approved a proposal in February 2006 to build a museum in the city’s old airport.

United Arab Emirates

Population: 4.4m

GDP: $110.6bn (with a 10.2% growth rate).

Major collectors: Dr Anwar Mohammed Gargash, Minister of State for Federal, National and Council Affairs in the UAE Cabinet, is an avid supporter of Dubai galleries selling Middle Eastern contemporary art.

Sharjah’s ruling Qasimi family run a range of museums and are long-term supporters, including Sharjah Biennial director Hoor Al Qasimi, who collects contemporary art for the Sharjah Art Museum (p34).

Omar Ghobash, co-owner of The Third Line gallery, collects contemporary Middle Eastern art with his wife Fatima.

The UAE is home to many wealthy non-resident Indians, including Ramesh Goenka, who spent $2m on modern Indian art at Christie’s first sale in Dubai in May 2006. Unlike most other Gulf states, Dubai has a growing contemporary gallery scene supported by young Emirati and expat Arab, Indian, Iranian and western collectors.

New museums: Abu Dhabi has announced the creation of four new museums and a Biennial Park to open by 2018 (pp32-33).

A new Islamic Art Museum is set to open in Sharjah before the end of 2007. The museum will be housed in a former souk building on the waterfront. Last year, Sheikha Hoor announced plans to build a contemporary art museum in Sharjah to house her collection, but this is still in the planning stages.


Population: 3.1m

GDP: $27.23bn (with a 6.5% growth rate).

Major collectors: The focus in Oman is on local art and heritage, although the Indian-Omani Khimji family collect contemporary western art as well as modern Arab and Indian art, including work by M.F. Husain. The ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, focuses on Orientalist painting.

Omar Zawawi, owner

of the construction conglomerate Omzest, collects modern Arab art and antiques. And Mohammed Al Zubair, founder of Muscat’s Bait Al Zubair Heritage Museum, collects antiques and Omani art.

New museums: Writer Dr Ghalia Al Said has the official opening of her new, niche museum on the Muscat corniche in autumn 2007. It will display her collection of Omani art and an installation by the Dubai-based artist Patricia Millns.