From a Cosmetics Entrepreneur to a Seasoned Cultural Advisor, Meet Five Under-the-Radar Saudi Art Collectors
These collectors have been tirelessly working to capture the modern and contemporary history of Saudi Arabia now on the brink of change.
A cultural revolution is taking place in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Up until September 2019, when the first tourist visas were issued, the Gulf nation was closed to the world, and access inside the country was privy to select foreigners and by invitation-only. Suddenly, the world was able to visit the often dubbed “Magic Kingdom,” and to view its rich ancient and contemporary heritage. Its opening is part of the country’s national transformation program, Saudi Vision 2030, launched in 2016 by the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Since then, the changes have come thick and fast: women can now drive, and there are cinemas, music concerts, and major giga projects set forth to push Saudi Arabia into the 21st century and beyond.
While there has long been an art scene in Saudi Arabia propelled by private initiatives and artist-led groups and spaces, the new vision has instituted a top-down approach to the development of the cultural scene through numerous government initiatives, aided by the founding of the Saudi ministry of culture in June 2018.
There are countless Saudi artists in the realm of established, mid-career and emerging, but Saudi art collectors are few in number. These rare collectors are invested in developing the scene and hope to use their passion for art to give voice to the talent of their country abroad. Through the sharing of their collections and their love for art these collectors hope to encourage other Saudis, young and old, to join their mission.
Basma Al Sulaiman
Age: Age 61
Occupation: Philanthropist, art patron, and founder of virtual museum BASMOCA
What’s in the Collection: “I started collecting in the 90s; my first acquisition was a Hockney. I then branched into Chinese artists, and soon after began collecting both locally and internationally,” Al Sulaimain said of her collection of mostly contemporary art.
Today, the collection spans different mediums including painting, tapestry, photography, sculpture, video and works on paper, and can be understood in two segments. One has a strong focus on Saudi artists with a little more than 200 pieces, including commissioned works by Dana Awartani and Maha Malluh, work by Manal Al Dowayan, as well as seminal installations such as the iconic Black Arch featured in the first Saudi Pavilion in the Venice Biennale in 2011, and Ahmed Mater’s ode to Mecca, “Magnetism.” The other is an international collection including around 800 pieces by various artists ranging from Andy Warhol, Georg Baselitz and Bridget Riley to El Anatsui, Zhang Fanzhi, and Joana Vasconcelos. She also started a virtual collection in 2011 with pieces by Jenny Holzer and Bill Viola, among others.
Distinguishing Factor: “The collection was originally based on a passion that I had developed. One that I wanted to pass on to my son. However, he sadly passed away a few years ago and since then it has become more of an obsession or mission to convert the collection into a legacy in his memory,” Al Sulaiman said. “One important aspect has become a dialogue between my home country, Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the world.” An exhibition featuring highlights of Al Sulaiman’s Saudi art collection, dedicated to his son, will go on view at the Maraya in AlUla this February.
Where She Shops: Local galleries such as Athr and Hafez and international galleries White Cube, Thaddaeus Ropac, and Victoria Miro. Fairs include Art Basel in Switzerland and Hong Kong as well as Arco (he has a residence in Madrid), and auctions at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams.
Recent Purchases: An important work by Ahmed Mater from Christie’s in support of The Future is Unwritten, Healing Arts Initiative.
Fun Fact: Al Sulaiman started collecting virtual works and NFTs long before they were in fashion, and founded her virtual museum in 2011. “Never did I imagine to be ahead of a curve that has now become a norm in the art world!” she said.
Occupation: From working in design at 1508 London, Alrashid moved back to Saudi Arabia where she ran events company Gexpo with her two sisters. During the pandemic she has decided to launch a cosmetics company.
What’s in the Collection: Large-scale paintings by female international artists or of female subjects. This includes the work of Elizabeth Peyton, Ella Kruglyanskaya, France-Lise McGurn, Anne Collier, Tracey Emin, and Shahzia Sikander. “While I don’t have much Saudi art in my collection, I am more interested now in exploring the scene and acquiring works by female Saudi artists,” Alrashid said.
Distinguishing Factor: A focus on female artists and female subjects on canvas. “I still notice how there is a lack of female artists and how some of the best paid artists are still male, so by collecting female art I am giving support to women artists internationally,” she said.
Where She Shops: Predominantly major art fairs, particularly Art Basel and Frieze. She also buys from galleries and auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. During Covid, she has made many purchases online from galleries.
Recent Purchases: Dark Tears by Tracy Emin, Bergère by Louise Sartor, and an untitled work by Issy Wood.
Fun Fact: After buying several works at Art Basel this year, Alrashid created an annex villa in her garden to hang her artwork. Painted pink and called “the Dollhouse,” it is now her favorite spot to entertain friends, throw dinner parties, and hang out.
Sultan bin Fahad
Occupation: Artist, art patron, and cultural advisor
What’s in the Collection: Major works of modern and contemporary art, including work by international and Middle Eastern artists, such as Sterling Ruby, Oscar Niemeyer, Michael Heizer, Daniel Arsham, and Ahmed Mater, Ayman Yossri Daydban, and Dia Azzawi.
Bin Fahad also collects found objects, which he uses in his own art practice, as well as archaeological pieces, design, and eclectic objects such as the movie script for The Godfather.
Distinguishing Factor: “I collect what is dear to me and I never think about the resale or the retail of these objects,” Bin Fahad said. “As an artist, the medium that I chose to work with is the found objects, which I also collect, precisely because there are a lot of stories to tell through them. I don’t think people need to collect paintings or sculpture for it to be art—I think a gas pump is also a piece of art.”
Where He Shops: Mostly directly from the artist or the gallery. Bin Fahad said he used to buy from auctions and art fairs but rarely buys from fairs now because he gets “overwhelmed” by choice.
Recent Purchases: Works by Saudi artists Zahrah Al Ghamdi and Rashed AlShashai.
Fun Fact: Bin Fahad has a growing collection of rubber ducks in a variety of shapes and colors.
Occupation: Co-founder of Athr Gallery (Jeddah and Riyadh), one of Saudi Arabia’s leading commercial art galleries. Serafi is also a businessman and the vice president of Al-Salehat Holding Company, active in the fields of real estate, construction, project management, banking, and healthcare. He also sits on the board of Makkah Construction Company and Saudi Catering and Hotels Holding, among other advisory roles for social and educational initiatives.
What’s in the Collection: Mostly Saudi artists from the 1960s to the present as well as a few pan-Arab and international artists, including Abdulhalim Radwi, Taha Al-Saban, Bakur Shakhoun, Abdullah Hamas, Ayman Yossri Daydban, Ahmed Mater, Nasser Al Salem, and Dana Awartani.
Distinguishing Factor: “Art is subjective. I collect art that I like and that means something to me but importantly, art that tells a story,” Serafi said. “I believe part of the mission of contemporary art is to document the present moment and its various social issues.”
Where He Shops: Art fairs like Art Dubai, Frieze and Art Basel, galleries, and charity auctions.
Recent Purchases: Work by Faisal Samra, Muhannad Shono, and Saleh Khattab.
Fun Fact: Serafi believes artworks are like humans and seek out the places they belong. “I don’t change my hanging if I see that an artwork likes its place,” he said.
Hind Al Ghanim
Occupation: Entrepreneur who runs several retail outlets, including a concept store, a café and restaurant.
What’s in the Collection: Works spanning calligraphy to Pop art, and through-lines include international art, Saudi, Egyptian, and Islamic art. Works by Ahmed Mater, Abdulnasser Gharem, Ali Cha’aban, Fahad Almajhadi, Fahad Alneama, Jeff Koons, Afshin Pirhashemi and Damien Hirst.
Distinguishing Factor: “I believe in art that I can invest in and if you feel the need to potentially sell or trade it later,” she said. “I am focusing now on local Saudi and Middle Eastern contemporary art. I see a lot of potential in Saudi art for international growth, so I want to support them and my homeland.”
Where She Shops: Usually at auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s (though she secured her hard-to-get Ahmed Mater piece from Ayyam Gallery). She also buys directly from artists.
Recent Purchases: Works by Saudi artists Fahad Almajhadi and Fahad Alneama.
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