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  • Sep 1, 2014
  • Updated: 3:15pm

Qatar emir's sister Sheikha al-Mayassa is art world's most powerful figure

Sheikha al-Mayassa, sister of the Qatar emir and buyer for the tiny Gulf state's museums, is named the art world's most powerful figure

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 October, 2013, 8:54pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 October, 2013, 4:09am

Her full title is Her Excellency Sheikha al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and although the 30-year-old is a long way from being a household name, she is the most powerful person in the art world.

The sheikha, daughter of the former emir of Qatar and sister of the current one, heads the Qatar Museums Authority. As such, she has control of the biggest cash pile in the world when it comes to buying Western modern and contemporary art. Her family is thought to spend more than US$1 billion a year on works for the museums Qatar is creating from scratch in the desert.

Sheikha Mayassa tops a list now in its 12th year: the ArtReview Power 100, a ranking of how the dealers, collectors, curators and artists compare in their importance to the delicate ecosystem of contemporary art.

"I think the figures definitely speak for themselves, and of the importance she has for the art market," said Mark Rappolt, ArtReview's editor.

The Museums Authority is thought to have been behind the record US$250 million purchase of a Cezanne painting of two card players. The 2011 sale, details of which have never been officially confirmed, was about double the previous record for a painting.

The purchase instantly put the Museums Authority into the big leagues of international collections, with the others in Cezanne's five-painting series held by the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Courtauld Institute of Art in London and the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.

Since then, the sheikha and the Museums Authority have picked up works by Picasso, Damien Hirst and others, while engaging in a massive museum-building project in the Qatari capital, Doha, Rappolt said.

"The Qatar Museums Authority is symptomatic of a global art culture in which art is culturally exchangeable," he said. "People with money have always bought and traded commodities … In some ways it's nothing new but perhaps on this scale it gets a bit newer."

The No1 spot last year went to Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, a US-born Italian-Bulgarian curator little known outside the art world and the first woman to be selected by the magazine.

Previous figures to top the list include Hirst, who is also a collector, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and gallery owner Larry Gagosian. Appearing on the list for the first time this year in the 12th year of the rankings are two art schools: Frankfurt's Staedelschule, ranked at 78, and New York's Bard Centre for Curatorial Studies at 80.

"The two academic powerhouses are responsible for training a generation of artists and curators whose influence is being felt around the world," the magazine said.

The youngest person on the list, at number 93, is Forrest Nash, 25, founder of the Contemporary Art Daily blog.

This year's list, compiled by a 13-member international jury, was marked by a continued shift from public to private resources, with the owners of those private resources becoming more inventive about the way they deploy them, ArtReview said.

ArtReview is a leading contemporary art magazine, published since 1949 and distributed throughout Europe, the United States and Asia.

Additional reporting by The Guardian


Art's big spenders

(2012 position in brackets)

1 Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani (11)

2 David Zwirner (5)

3 Iwan Wirth (4)

4 Larry Gagosian (2)

5 Hans Ulrich Obrist and Julia Peyton-Jones (10)

6 Nicholas Serota (8)

7 Beatrix Ruf (7)


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