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Qatar becoming Gulf's new cultural hub

HDN | 7/14/2011 12:00:00 AM | Melis Alphan - melisalphan@hurriyet.com.tr

For people looking for stimulating art work, Qatar is the right place. With more and more new museums opening, some designed by famous architects, it is slowly becoming the cultural hub of the Gulf

The famous London auction house Christie’s, with images from 15 different countries, raised $14 million in a Dubai auction recently, an increase of 117 percent on last year’s contemporary Middle East art sale.

“Pictures for this sale were consigned from 15 different countries and they [were given to] buyers from 18 countries,” said Michael Jeha, the managing director of Christie’s in Dubai.

The Arab world has been on the agenda because of the Arab Spring but from an artistic point of view, there is a lot going on that outsiders are less aware of. People may have a notion that there is an art fair in Dubai, they know about the Sharjah Biennial, but when you look closer at the region, it is interesting to see what is evolving. They are part of an Eastern culture, but are also exposed to Western trends.

Doha rich in art

Emin Mahir Balcıoğlu refers to himself as an “institution builder.” He likes to set up institutions in the most unlikely places like Zanzibar or Kazakhstan. Qatar does not fall in that class, because it has already established itself as a museum emirate but that is where Balcıoğlu has been working.

“I think in many ways, in view of the fact that Arab societies are still closed politically because of religious norms and the like, you find much more stimulating art work in these countries, which puts into question the regime and social orders that are now predominant there,” said Balcıoğlu.

In Doha there is a very rich collection of contemporary Arab art and the different movements in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and the region showcase an incredible array of style focus on difficult issues such as the “clash of civilizations” and East-West differences.

Qatar has been a society in transformation and Qataris were not used to visiting museums, said Balcıoğlu.

That has been changing. They have had over 500,000 people visit the Museum of Islamic Art – considering the total population of Qatar is just 1,700,000,

the figure is remarkable. For Qataris, having cultural institutions in their country is also a matter of pride, as it puts them on the map.

There is a big movement to transform Qatar into a cultural destination. People will go to Qatar not only for the art work and exhibitions, but also because they will want to see buildings by signature architects.

“I think one of the successful aspects of Qatar is that it manages to be on the world agenda all the time. There is always something happening there and we hear about Qatar,” said Balcıoğlu.

Qatar keen to buy Christie’s

That is why Qatar revealed it was keen to buy Christie’s, but the auction house said it would remain privately owned. The Financial Times reported that Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani was eyeing Christie’s as part of Qatar’s bid to become a cultural hub in the Gulf.

The National Museum of Qatar, designed by Jean Nouvel, was one of the museums under construction. Another project that was contemplated is the new Orientalist Museum designed by Jacques Herzog. The architect of the Museum of Islamic Art that opened its doors in 2008 is I.M. Pei. Signature architects are building the museums but

all the collections are and will

be from Qataris. They are doing their own thing and not importing art.

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