So the Art World's Biggest Player Is Now a 30-Year-Old Qatari Woman

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Sheika al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani is determined to make Qatar a cultural center of the world, and she spends about $1 billion a year to make that dream come true. As The New York Times reports, her brother is the new emir (her father abdicated in June), and she is the chairwoman of the Qatar Museums Authority. Her recent buys include Paul Cézanne’s Card Players for $250 million — the highest price ever paid for a painting.

Nobody is going to accuse her of being cheap: Sheika al Mayassa has also overseen the purchase of the works of Rothko, Francis Bacon, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. Qatar has been buying art for the last 50 years, but since she's chaired the QMA, Qatar has become a bigger player in the art world. And Sheika al Mayassa knows her own and her country's growing influence. The Economist reported that when she hosted Larry Gagosian (ahem, the most powerful art dealer in the world) at a dinner in 2012, she didn't even sit him at the main table.  

Qatar's GDP is about $180 billion, much of it from oil. As such, the nation's leaders have the unique ability to influence the entire art world with their purchases. New York art dealer David Nash told The Times, “When they finish their buying program and withdraw from the market, they will leave a big hole which I don’t see anyone else ready to fill at their level.” According to The Times, Qatar's purchases alone have "buoyed the international art market."

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Sheika al Mayassa, who was educated in the United States, at Duke and Columbia, sees the QMA as a way for Qatar to become more respected in the West. She told The Times,

My father often says, in order to have peace, we need to first respect each other’s cultures. And people in the West don’t understand the Middle East. They come with Bin Laden in their heads.

The sheika's "grand vision" for Qatar could very well change that. As long as she keeps spending, that is.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.