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Major Kandinsky show opens in Saudi Arabia as Vladimir Putin arrives for rare state visit

Cultural programme of Russian art launches to coincide with president's trip to the Gulf state to sign over $2bn worth of deals

Wassily Kandinsky's Black Spot (1917) is part of the exhibition at the King Fahd Cultural Centre

Nineteen paintings by Wassily Kandinsky from St. Petersburg’s State Russian Museum will be presented in Riyadh during Vladimir Putin’s visit to Saudi Arabia, which begins today, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) has announced. They will be presented at the King Fahd Cultural Centre as part of the “Russian Culture in Riyadh” programme that is being launched during Putin’s first visit to the kingdom in 12 years. The month-long programme also includes an exhibition about art and artificial intelligence, a light-projection show, and events around Russian cinema and opera.

The RDIF, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, opened its first foreign office in Saudi Arabia last week. Kirill Dmitriev, the head of RDIF, said Russia and Saudi Arabia will sign over $2bn worth of deals during Putin’s visit. The Russian fund already brought several works by Kandinsky and Pavel Filonov to Riyadh last October for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Future Investment Initiative, known as “Davos in the Desert”.

“The interest shown in Russian abstract art by the forum’s participants resulted in a request for a more extensive exhibition in Saudi Arabia by the State Russian Museum,” RDIF said in a statement.

Kandinsky in Russia (until 14 November) will present works from the artist’s early period, influenced by folk art from the Russian North and “several works from his ‘revolutionary’ period, in particular Black Spot (1917) and Picture with Points (1919)”.

The meeting will be watched especially closely due to explosive Middle East tensions, including between Iran and Saudi Arabia and Russia’s growing influence in Syria as US troops pull out of the Kurdish north which is fighting off a Turkish offensive.

In an interview with Arab-language channels on the eve of his Saudi trip, Putin said Russia does not plan to play one country off against the other and will “nurture relations” with the entire region. “[The Middle East] has always appealed to Russia with its enigma, culture, opportunities and potential,” he said.

Culture officials have been nurturing ties as well. Russian and Saudi officials have been exploring the possibility of a State Hermitage Museum satellite in the Gulf state. Mikhail Piotrovsky, the museum’s director and an Arabist, was a member of the Russian delegation at “Davos in the Desert.” An RDIF spokesman told The Art Newspaper that Piotrovsky will be participating in this trip as well.