Wednesday, April 4, 2012

ESP - Eastern Soft Power

The development of world class museums in Qatar is not necessarily news, but recent acquisitions and exhibits suggest additional foresight in recognizing the significance of artworks in international affairs.
As covered below on February 8th, the Royal Family of Qatar made headlines with the announcement of the acquisition of The Card Players by Cezanne for $250 million. Such an investment demonstrates admiration of and respect for Western culture even if competing with collectors in the United States, Europe, China, and, for that matter, the world. But acquisitions alone do not establish the viability of a museum as a cultural institution. Exhibitions based on loans make up an equally significant part of a museum’s existence.
Recent court cases of repatriation of cultural artifacts and restitution of artworks have disrupted the transnational flow of loans of cultural property. Amid concerns over objects of questionable provenance being seized while on loan, various nations have imposed bans on loans to American museums. In a specific example, a Russian embargo on loans to the United States impaired the ability of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to complete an exhibition on Islamic art that has historically become part of Russian cultural patrimony.
So what does that have to do with Qatar? Well, it turns out quite a bit. Since the Russian embargo did not include Qatar, the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha could receive the loan. With the assistance of LACMA curators, Qatar’s museum put on a show that included art that Islamic rulers had sent to the czarist courts and was loaned from the State Hermitage Museum and National Library of Russia. In effect, Qatar became a bridge between Russian politics and U.S. interests and enabled the exhibition to reach its full potential.
Does the Royal Family of Qatar have ESP about the role of artworks in soft power and the future global balance of power?

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