Following the initial identification of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as the buyer behind the $450 million Leonardo da Vinci painting Salvator Mundi (read on for updates on the true buyer – or buyers), the degree of his arts patronage has risen to the fore. With the mission to promote art in the Middle East, the Crown Prince intends to inaugurate an institute, set up a pavilion for the next Venice Biennale, further support arts education in schools, and push for international exhibitions, archaeology and virtual reality, all through a culture-oriented branch of the Misk Foundation.
The Misk Foundation, a philanthropic entity, will launch the Misk Art Institute, which will be independent of existing museums in order to “become Saudi Arabia’s leading platform for grassroots cultural production, diplomacy and exchange.” Located in the Al Meftaha Arts Village in Abha – a popular artist’s area in the 1990s – it will be geared towards Saudi’s younger generation and see prominent Saudi artist Ahmed Mater at the helm.
Additional projects underway via the Misk Foundation include an architectural competition for its headquarters in Riyadh and a permanent structure for the Saudi Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (both overseen by Mater); a Riyadh-based arts festival; still-undisclosed exhibitions during Dubai’s Art Week in March 2018; and a National Public Art Prize, inspired by Jeddah’s famous sculpture-lined corniche, which will take place across multiple cities. Separately, the Crown Prince intends to increase the number of teaching aids and artists working in schools, provide a trip to Silicon Valley as the reward of a competition for young artists, create a virtual reality film of artist studios across the Kingdom, and host the first local Art Book Fair during Jeddah Art Week in February 2018.
The efforts promote local ventures as well as international collaboration. Beyond Saudi Arabia’s borders, there are several projects in the works with the help of Stephen Stapleton, co-founder of Edge of Arabia, a platform for contemporary art and creative movement founded in Saudi in 2003. The Joint Cooperation Committee was announced this past week between Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, UAE, which will formalise their existing military, political, economic and cultural collaborations. This came hand-in-hand with the news that the partnership would include the showcase of Salvator Mundi at the recently opened Louvre Abu Dhabi – the actual figure behind the mega da Vinci sale and acquisition.
With the sale inciting a rippling after-effect, Bloomberg Business reported that two princes by proxy for Abu Dhabi were the potential, or purported, buyers of the da Vinci work. While numerous reports have appeared suggesting that the Saudi Crown Prince was behind the move, it has also been said that Louvre-supporter Saudi Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al Saud was in fact the one who acted as intermediary on behalf of Abu Dhabi to acquire the work for the Louvre. Christie’s, who sold the work, the Saudi Embassy in Washington, and the office of Prince Bader have since confirmed that despite the conflicting information, the Louvre Abu Dhabi has made the acquisition.
Following the reveal by Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism that it would exhibit the da Vinci masterpiece, the chairman His Excellency Mohamed Al Mubarak stated that it is “our mission to inspire a new generation of cultural leaders and creative thinkers to contribute to our rapidly-changing and tolerant nation.” The oil painting, dating from around 1500, depicts a half-length figure of Christ with a frontal gaze, holding a crystal orb in his left hand with his right raised in benediction. Lauded as one of the greatest artistic discoveries in the last century, it will be viewed alongside da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronnière, currently on loan from the Musée du Louvre in Paris, France. “Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece Salvator Mundi fits perfectly into the narrative of Louvre Abu Dhabi, the first universal museum to break down the barriers between the different civilisations,” said Manuel Rabaté, director of Louvre Abu Dhabi, in a statement. “It will be on display alongside our growing collection, and will be an exceptional treasure that no doubt will be enjoyed by our visitors.”
In addition to Salvator Mundi, the public will also be able to visit the Louvre’s inaugural exhibition From One Louvre to Another: Opening a Museum for Everyone as of 21 December. It will trace the Louvre’s trajectory from the private and royal collections and artist salons that led to its opening in Paris in the 18th century.