WHO IS HE?
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, 33, is the son of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the potentate who since 1995 has ruled the Gulf state of Qatar—and who this week announced he would be giving up power, making his son the new emir. Educated in England and currently heading the committee planning Qatar's hosting of the 2022 World Cup, Sheikh Tamim now will hold sway over the oil-rich emirate's international and domestic affairs, which include the Qatar Museums Authority, chaired by his sister Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani.
WHY SHOULD WE CARE?
Well, Qatar is believed to be the world's biggest buyer of contemporary art, acquiring hundreds of millions of dollars of work privately and at auction—including showstopping older masterpieces as well, like the world-record $250 million Cezanne the QMA reportedly bought in 2012. Now news outlets and art insiders are wondering whether the new sheikh will increase the small country’s global art profile. The New York Times also reports speculation that the new emir will expand personal freedoms—a major step in a country currently without a democracy—so there's that too.
WHY DOES QATAR LIKE ART SO MUCH?
In recent years, art has become a high-profile national status symbol in the region, with states like Abu Dhabi and Dubai spending enormous sums to create art fairs, museums, and even entire museum islands (as is the case with Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Island, intended to hold satellites of the Louvre and the Guggenheim). This competition is driven in part by a strategic attempt to park oil dollars in investment-grade art material, but also a desire to gain prestige on the international stage.
To this end, Sheikh Tamim's mother, Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser Al-Misned, spearheaded the founding of Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Contemporary Art in 2010. Meanwhile, the five-year-old Museum of Islamic Art, Doha has quickly ascended to be considered one of the finest collections of Islamic art in the world. The country’s ever-increasing focus on the arts seems likely to be expanded by the new leader.
WHO IS ON QATAR'S ART TEAM?
A number of high-profile art insiders have staked out key positions in the rapidly growing art scene in Qatar. Edward Dolman, the QMA'S executive director and CEO, was CEO of Christie's before joining after 27 years at the auction house. He was followed to his post by former Christie's contemporary-art specialist Jean-Paul Engelen. In May, 2009 Abdellah Karroum, curator of the 2009 Marrakech Biennial and associate curator of the Palais de Tokyo's 2012 Triennial, was named the new director of Mathaf.
WHAT PROJECTS ARE ALREADY IN THE WORKS?
With the country's megamuseums bolstering auction sales the world over, the Qatar National Museum (part of the QMA) is slated to re-open in 2014 as re-envisioned by Jean Nouvel. The Authority also announced plans this month for a temporary museum in Al Zubarah, dedicated to archeological finds at the ancient trading center. Rumors have also circulated in the press that the country is clandestinely planning a biennial for 2014. The AMA also plans to hold the largest-ever exhibition of Damien Hirst's work in Doha in 2014, following up its similarly sweeping 2012 retrospective of Takashi Murakami.
WHY SHOULD YOU BE EXTRA-SPECIAL NICE TO THE NEW SHEIKH?
Freedom of expression isn’t guaranteed for curators and artists working in the country. Qatar’s sole political prisoner, the poet Mohammad ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, got a life sentence for penning a verse about “sheiks playing on their PlayStations” because of laws against criticizing the emir. The sentence was commuted to 15 years.