The private Saudi art organisation Art Jameel has bought a vast collection of works by leading artists commissioned by the now defunct, Dubai-based private equity firm Abraaj. The 29 pieces, created over ten years from 2008 as part of the annual Abraaj Group Art Prize, are by artists from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia including Kader Attia, Shezad Dawood, Rana Begum and Wael Shawky. The collection had been planned to go on long-term loan to Art Jameel’s Dubai space, Jameel Arts Centre, before the financial company went bankrupt in 2018. It will now be managed as part of the Art Jameel Collection and part will be housed at the centre in Dubai. Art Jameel declined to disclose the financial details of the acquisition.
"For the first time they will have an institutional base," says Antonia Carver, the director of Art Jameel. "The potential for curation, scholarship, education and storytelling is really exciting.”
The Abraaj Group Art Prize was once considered the most significant art prize in the region, awarding $100,000 to a winner each year to produce a new work for the Abraaj Group Art Prize collection. Shortlisted artists received $10,000 and the chance to exhibit existing works alongside the new commission in an exhibition at the Art Dubai fair. The changing juries were made up of leading art world figures such as Hans Ulrich Obrist, Myrna Ayad and Yinka Shonibare. "The Abraaj Group Art Prize invited artists to propose ‘dream projects’ and—thanks in part to the prowess of the jury and a set of critically minded curators—the artists awarded tended to be at a critical point in their careers known in the region, with a strong track record, and on the cusp of becoming established internationally," Carver says.
In total, there were 30 works in the Abraaj Group Art Prize collection. The final winning commission, Walled Unwalled (2018) by the rising star Lawrence Abu Hamdan, who shared the Turner Prize in 2019, is missing from Art Jameel’s acquisition. Shown at Art Dubai fair in 2018, the final work did not become part of the collection and remained the property of the artist.
In a brochure published by the Abraaj Group in 2018 to celebrate ten years of the prize, the organisers said: “We set out for the prize to be a vehicle for change and leave a lasting impression—for the 44 artists, 14 curators and the global art community—and we are proud to have played a catalytic role.” Abraaj also lent its collection to many important international museums and events including the New Museum in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, the Sharjah Biennial and the Venice Biennale. However, Carver says the collection has mainly been in storage. “Art Jameel will continue to work with the artists and other museums and cultural institutes to exhibit the works within group and solo shows at Jameel Arts Centre and through loans to international exhibitions,” according to a statement.
The first display of the collection will be Taysir Batniji’s work, which will go on show at Jameel Arts Centre as part of its “Artist’s Rooms” series (from 4 May). To My Brother (2012) is a series of 60 hand-carved “drawings” on paper that copy photographs from the wedding of the artist’s brother, who was killed two years later by a sniper during the first intifada in Palestine.
Below is a selection of the works Art Jameel has acquired.