It is said that money buys power, and a Qatari Sheikha has used her nation’s healthy current account to top the annual ranking of the contemporary art world’s most influential figures.
Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani topped ArtReview’s 12th annual “Power 100” yesterday after a string of high-profile purchases and sponsored exhibitions in the tiny emirate. The 30-year-old mother-of-three is the head of Qatar’s museum authority, and recently hit the headlines when she spent £158m on Cézanne’s The Card Players, making it the most expensive painting ever bought at auction.
Sheikha Mayassa is the sister of Qatar’s emir and is thought to control an annual budget of £1bn, which she has used to snap up works by Mark Rothko, Richard Serra, Roy Lichtenstein, Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. She is also believed have spent £50m on Picasso’s Child With a Dove last year.
Mark Rappolt, chair of the Power 100 list, said: “In some ways the numbers speak for themselves. No one is buying in the art market like the Qataris. The decision here was fairly universal. It’s not just their buying, it is their international sponsorship of art exhibitions and institutions. Their influence is expanding.”
Sheikha Mayassa is the second woman to top the Power 100 after Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, the curator of the Documenta contemporary art exhibition in Kassel, Germany, was named last year’s number one.
Previous powerful figures have ranged from dealers and artists to collectors and curators. Heavy hitters including the legendary American dealer Larry Gagosian and noted collectors such as French businessman François Pinault and advertising mogul Charles Saatchi have all topped the list. In 2011, dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s nomination provoked anger in Beijing.
Sheikha Mayassa was educated at Duke University in North Carolina and worked for Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York before moving into the art world. As head of the Qatar Museums Authority she raised eyebrows after agreeing to buy a 1930s Cartier necklace, set with diamonds and platinum, for £2.1m in November 2011. Along with other extravagant purchases, it led some insiders to claim that her enormous buying power is distorting the market. The purchases are all expected to go on display at several new galleries currently under construction in Doha.
Sheikha Mayassa also bankrolls and sponsors overseas exhibitions, notably Damien Hirst’s retrospective at the Tate in 2012. Hirst’s name is nowhere to be seen on this year’s list; his stock has tumbled.
Three powerful art dealers and gallery owners are high in the rankings: David Zwirner, Iwan Wirth and Larry Gagosian; and the expansion of the Tate has seen the director, Sir Nicholas Serota, move up the list to sixth place, but there was a paucity of Britons among the top 100. “Just as the world economy has been more global, so has the world’s art scene,” Mr Rappolt said.
Splashing out: Her three most notable purchases
The Card Players Paul Cézanne (£158m in 2011)
Qatar joined an exclusive club with the purchase of this post-Impressionist masterpiece for a world-record price. There are only five paintings in this Cézanne series; one is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, another in the Musée d’Orsay.
Lullaby Spring Pill Cabinet Damien Hirst (£14m in 2007)
The sale of this piece at a Sotheby’s auction in London made Hirst the world’s most bankable living artist, overtaking Jasper Johns and Lucian Freud.
White Center Mark Rothko ($45m in 2007)
Setting a temporary high-water mark for post-war art, this purchase – made anonymously at the time – shocked the art world when it was sold by previous owner David Rockefeller at Sotheby’s in New York.