What Do Qatar’s Cultural Spending Cuts Say About the Spring Auction Season?

It's a gloomy forecast.

The Museum of Islamic Art.
Image: Courtesy of Qatar Museums Authority via www.qm.org.qa

How will the steep drop in oil prices end up impacting Qatar’s ambitious museum building plans and the art market as a whole? Reports of budget and staff cuts at the country’s museum authority last month may foretell cracks in the cultural future of the oil-rich region, sources say.

Two hundred forty staff members at Qatar Museum Authority (QMA) have been laid off in January, while allowances and spending have also been reined in, according to the Financial Times and the Art Newspaper (TAN)Less than 800 employees of 1,200 remain at their posts.

The emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, approved cutbacks to budgets including transport, energy, health, and culture.

TAN cites a source who claims that another 400 jobs could be slashed at QMA, and that plans for a children’s museum and Orientalist museums have been shelved, along with plans for a museum dedicated to pearls.

Adding to the gloomy economic outlook, the New York Times has a lengthy story by financial writer James Stewart about a drop in values for ultra-high net worth individuals’ most prized assets—including Park Avenue real estate, blue-chip art, classic cars, and jewels.

Stewart says collectors are “anxiously waiting for the results of the big spring auctions in New York,” noting that London sales in February were “tepid”—down 35 percent at Christie’s and 50 percent at Sotheby’s.

However, TAN notes that the cuts in Qatar will not likely extend to the royal family’s art buying habits. Last year, the family shelled out $300 million in a private sale for Paul Gauguin’s 1892 painting When Will You Marry?

Paul Gauguin Nafea Faa Ipoipo When Will You Marry

Paul Gauguin, Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?).
Photo: Artothek.

And on Monday March 14, a major new exhibition curated by Cai Guo-Qiang, “What About The Art? Contemporary Art From China,” is opening to the public at Qatar Museums Gallery Al Riwaq, in Doha.

H.E. Dr. Hamad Al -Kuwari viewing Liu Xiaodong ’ s new painting H.E. Dr. Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al -Kuwari's Family , at Qatar Museums Gallery Al Riwaq. Photo by Wen-You Cai, courtesy Cai Studio

Liu Xiaodong, H.E. Dr. Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari’s Family (2016).
Installation view at Qatar Museums Gallery Al Riwaq. Photo by Wen-You Cai, courtesy Cai Studio.

Despite the visibility of its wealthy royal family, the country is facing serious financial challenges on two fronts: declining revenues, and over-budget projects that have proved to be more costly than anticipated. For instance, the National Museum, which was designed by starchitect Jean Nouvel, is said to have cost $434 million. Due to delays, it is now scheduled to open in 2017.

The other issue is that Sheikh Al Thani, who replaced his father as emir two years ago, is following his own plan; TAN reports an inside source stating, “it doesn’t seem very structured or thought out.”

Lot 10 - Pablo Picasso TÊTE DE FEMME (1935). Estimate: £16,000,000 — 20,000,000.Image: Courtesy Sotheby's.

Pablo Picasso, Tete de Femme (1935)
Image: Courtesy Sotheby’s.

The QMA did not respond to artnet News’ requests for comment.

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