The opening of I.M. Pei’s Museum of Islamic Art, something of a Cubist Xanadu, in Doha, Qatar, certainly seemed to carry the newfound sense that the Bush-era “Clash of Civilizations” might be coming to an end. Guests at the lush (if alcohol-free) weekend-long opening event included Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, delegations from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Louvre, auction-house heads, and Robert De Niro, who was seated with the nation’s royal family. James Snyder, director of the Israel Museum, was one of the first through the building’s doors, racing to sign “the golden book,” the official record of the opening night’s guest list. Scribbling his name, his museum, and “Jerusalem,” he said, “I wouldn’t miss this opportunity; to be here, this is historically significant.” At the entrance, he hugged Sandi Pei, son of the architect, and the two did a little dance. Jerusalem and the Arab world have more “aesthetic and cultural similarities” than differences, he said.
For the auction-house heads and artists, attendance was good business as well as good diplomacy, as the ruling emir has been splurging to fill this museum and a National Museum of Art being built by Jean Nouvel. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani was the buyer of the Rockefeller Rothko for $72.8 million at Sotheby’s in 2007. So Bill Ruprecht, CEO of Sotheby’s, and Stephen Lash, chairman of Christie’s, both showed up. “The art world is a big world, and this is an important museum,” said Lash. “Plus, they invited me.” The sheikh also paid $19.2 million for Hirst’s Lullaby Spring, a sculpture of pharmaceuticals, in 2007. Hirst lounged on a red velvet sofa on the sand alongside Ron Wood, Rolling Stones
bassist guitarist, and dealer Jay Jopling.
The Met sent a contingent, including Philippe de Montebello, president Emily Rafferty, and incoming director Thomas Campbell, who walked largely unrecognized through the crowd as De Montebello was stopped at every turn. Campbell praised the museum’s “incredible objects.” Isn’t it the Met’s competitor? “No, the kind of money they are spending, we’re not competing with them.” Jeff Koons, surrounded by fans at a tented buffet, said he was there looking to Islamic art for inspiration and, amid the evening’s feel-good mood, was even seeing the sunny side of the recent plunge in the art market. “Life’s a cycle. There will clearly be good things that come out of this for artists and some good art.”