The sister of Qatar’s new Emir, Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, has been revealed as the new biggest player in the international art scene, spending $1bn annually on masterpieces.
According to The New York Times (NYT), Sheikha Al Mayassa is buying art “at a level never seen before”.
The 30-year-old, whose father abdicated in June, is investing on behalf of the Qatar Museums Authority, of which she is chairwoman, in an effort to make the oil-rich Gulf state a cultural haven.
“[Qatar Museums Authority is] the most important buyers of art in the market today,” Patricia G. Hambrecht, the chief business development officer for Phillips auction house, told the NYT.
“The amount of money being spent is mind-boggling.”
Sheikha Al Mayassa’s budget is estimated to be $1bn a year, by far outstripping other major museums such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, which spent $32m on artworks in 2011-12.
Such extravagant spending has buoyed the international art market and caused prices to rise.
Many of Sheikha Al Mayassa’s purchases have set new records. In fact she is responsible for the highest known price ever paid for a painting - $250m for Cézanne’s ‘Card Players’ in 2011, according to the NYT. That is four times the highest known price.
In 2007 Sheikha Al Mayassa led the purchase of a Rothko piece, ‘White Center’, for more than $70m. Previously, the highest price for his work had been $22m, for ‘Homage to Matisse’ in 2005.
Later that year she bought a Damien Hirst pill cabinet for more than $20m - then a record for a living artist.
It is no surprise then that Qatar would be sorely missed if it pulled out of the international art scene.
“When they finish their buying program and withdraw from the market they will leave a big hole, which I don’t see anyone else ready to fill at their level,” a New York dealer who spent 35 years as a top executive with Sotheby’s, David Nash told the NYT.
It is not known where the artworks are being held or where they will eventually be displayed, if anywhere. But experts believe they could become part of a new contemporary art institution in the country, yet to be announced.
The Qatar Museums Authority is creating a new home for the National Museum of Qatar as well as establishing the Museum of Islamic Art and Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, which all focus on regional artists, while the international collection is of Western artworks.
In a 2010 interview, Sheikha Al Mayassa said she believed that establishing art institutions might challenge Western preconceptions about Muslim societies.
That year she also said art was a “very important” part of Qatar’s national identity.
Qatar, with a GDP of at least $170bn, also is renown for its investment in international landmark buildings including London’s Harrods department store and a luxurious boutique on Paris’ Champs Élysées, as well as the Paris St Germain football club.