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. Credit due to 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.
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.
• 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 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’sPortrait 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).