The story is not new. Qatar, the oil-rich gulf state, is turning its petrodollars, among other things, into art collections and art museums, just like its neighboring Emirates. After acquiring a Cezanne for £ 162 million and a Rothko for £ 47 million, a Qatari collector bought Picasso’s ‘Child with A Dove’ for £ 50 million last year, and he will ‘carry it off’ this year. A lot of money? No surprise, Qatar is among the three art buyers in the world!
Good for Qatar. Bad for other countries? Maybe. The case of the Picasso painting is a good example: this painting has been in Britain for the last 90 years, and now it will ‘leave’. The government cannot afford the luxury of paying as much money to the owner (a family) to acquire the painting for ‘the nation’. The alternative? An ‘art bar’ preventing the work from leaving the country for a certain period, hoping that a British investor/collector/fund would step in, buy the painting and save the day. The bar expired, no ones stepped in.
Painting, sculpture and crafts are sometimes classified as mobile cultural heritage (in other words, they can be moved from one place to another, unlike monuments and cultural landscapes). This, coupled with the fact that countless pieces are in the hands of private owners, makes this kind of cultural heritage particularly susceptible to moving across borders, basically in one direction: from countries that cannot afford to those who can, and this is how fossil fuel became Picasso!