Qatar in context (original image via topnews.in)

You may know Qatar as the home of Al Jazeera, but according to the Art Newspaper this small kingdom in the Persian Gulf is proving itself a major contemporary art buyer—and if “reliable” reports about their acquisitions are to be believed, their influence is bigger than everyone realizes:

… Qatar has already commissioned a major project from Richard Serra, is planning a Jeff Koons exhibition and funded the Takashi Murakami exhibition in Versailles last year, which is due to be shown in Doha in 2012.

But that’s not all. Seems the Qataris have bought 11 Rothkos, tons of art from the blue-chip Sonnabend estate and lots of other stuff … and all in time for the big waves this small nation hopes to make during the 2022 World Cup.

So, how much money are we actually talking here? Here’s a taste:

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 Laven der 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.

When Qataris go shopping, they REALLY go all out. But lest you think this is all just bling and show, Qatar has been doing a lot of investment in their cultural scene and research, including archeological digs that have reshaped our understanding of their country’s past.

In a region that lacks many high-quality museums of modern and contemporary art, the Israel Museum and Tel Aviv Museum of Art in Israel and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Iran are three notable exceptions, Qatar’s interest in creating a vast collection of contemporary art is welcome, if curious.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

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