Should Centre Pompidou Develop an Art Museum in Saudi Arabia?
The French institution has signed a partnership agreement to realise a new contemporary art museum in AlUla. Commentators expressed misgivings.
AlUla. Photo: Royal Commission for AlUla.
This week Centre Pompidou signed an agreement with the Royal Commission for AlUla to create a contemporary art museum in the ancient Saudi city.
'This partnership aims to support the enhancement and development of the cultural, artistic and creative aspects of the AlUla site,' Centre Pompidou said in a statement.
'The Centre Pompidou will contribute its scientific and technical expertise in the training of staff, particularly in the areas of conservation management of collections and mediation. It may also provide support for the organisation of cultural and event programming,' they said.
No completion date has been given for the new museum, which will be Pompidou's fifth satellite, following openings in Metz, France; Malaga, Spain; Shanghai, China; and Brussels, Belgium. Another location, Centre Pompidou x Jersey City, is slated to open in the United States next year.
The National reports that the AlUla museum will house contemporary Middle Eastern, North African and South Asian art, with immersive installations by artists from all over the world. They said the structure will be designed as 'an archipelago of pavilions, punctuated with a mosaic of artists' gardens.'
French newspaper Le Monde reported that the museum will be called 'Perspective Galleries'. They said architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers 'are in the process of signing a contract worth €2 million (US $2.1 million) with the Saudi authorities' to consult on the museum, which is being constructed by Lebanese architect Lina Ghotmeh.
ArtForum noted that the AlUla museum project follows from a ten-year agreement signed between Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2018 that aims to establish AlUla as a cultural and tourism hub. They said Macron 'doubled down' on the deal after the state-sanctioned murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The Centre Pompidou deal is backed by both governments, with the French and Saudi Ministers of Culture present at this week's signing.
ArtForum also noted that Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 project—which aims to lessen the country's dependence on oil and build its cultural economy—is seen by some as an attempt to 'artwash' its human rights abuses.
The Art Newspaper noted that between 2015 and 2022, an average of 129 executions were carried out each year in Saudi Arabia.
Other major art events to launch in Saudi Arabia recently include Desert X AlUla in 2020, the Diriyah Biennale in 2021, and the Islamic Arts Biennale in Jeddah this year. —[O]