Home > Archive >Upheaval in Qatar's Art World
Author:written by S. Fidler posted by jc
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Sun, Mar 13th, 2005 11:25:43 AM
Topic: Upheaval in Qatar's Art World

World’s top art buyer loses cultural post
By Stephen Fidler in London

The man ranked by dealers as the world's largest art buyer of recent years has been removed from his position as chairman of the cultural committee that buys treasures for the rich Gulf state of Qatar.

Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed al-Thani has set the art world alight in recent years with aggressive purchases of thousands of objects ranging from fine art, books, manuscripts and antiquities to vintage cars and old bicycles.

Experts estimate his purchases have far exceeded £1bn (€1.45bn) and his acquisitions at auction have often raised questions because of the high prices he has paid including more than £900,000 for a fly whisk.

As head of Qatar's National Council for Culture, Arts and Heritage, Sheikh Saud combed the art world for treasures to fill five or more museums proposed by the Qatar government as part of a plan to turn its capital, Doha, into a centre for Arab and Islamic tourism.

The museums include one for Islamic art, designed by the famed Chinese-American architect I.M Pei, and a spectacular national library.

A brief note on the council's website indicates that the Qatari emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifah al Thani, has made a decision to “reestablish the NCCAH”. In place of Sheikh Saud, the website now names Mohamad Abdu Arahim Kafud as the council's chairman. No explanation was given. Sheikh Saud is a first cousin of the emir, and his side of the family ruled the emirate until 1972, when Sheikh Hamad's father took over in a quiet coup.

The move was the talk of the annual international fine art and antiques fair that began on Friday in Maastricht, the Netherlands. Sheikh Saud was given a special advance viewing of last year's fair.

Dealers said there was discussion of what impact his departure would have on art prices. Some collectors were also said to be keen to ensure that the development did not adversely affect the objects already purchased by Sheikh Saud, many of which are in storage in Doha.

In 1999, Sheikh Saud caused comment by paying £507,000 for a single photograph: Gustave Le Gray's Grande Vague à Sète.

Sheikh Saud, who has houses in London and Qatar, could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Author: jc
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Sun, Mar 13th, 2005 11:25:43 AM

From the looks of things, and the latest published reports, the British and Qatari authorities are taking quite seriously the allegations of fraud and misappropriation of funds surrounding Sheikh Saud's art purchases.

As more news filters out of the Gulf and London we will continue to cover this developing story.

Author: jc
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Sun, Mar 6th, 2005 03:47:20 PM

RK.com has learned the reason for Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed al-Thani's removal center around allegations he participated with a number of "respected" Islamic Art dealers in padding invoices and other behind-the-scene profit schemes for his personal benefit.

We have also heard allegations michael, aka little lord, franses is one of those “respected” purveyors the Sheikh has purchased objects from and is implicated in this ongoing "art story of the year".

So far these allegations are just that, allegations, and no actual substantiation has yet to emerge into the public sphere.

But the Sheikh's dismissal is a fact and so, too, is an investigation by English authorities into this matter as many of these "respected" dealers, like little lord franses, are based in London or do business there.

For those of you not familiar with franses, here is the photo of himself he proudly displays on his website:

Over the last 30 years franses, who is a high-school dropout and grandson of Sam Franses, the leading carpet dealer in London in early years of the 20th century, has climbed his way up the rug business ladder. Starting off as a junior member of the London "carpet-mafia", a group of traveling rug pickers and dealers who scour the countryside antique auction sales and shows, franses then worked in a west-end gallery and eventually went into business with his father. By the way, his father and three uncles were all rug dealers, however, unlike his brothers Robert Franses, michael's father, never opened a fancy shoppe in the west end.

Jack Franses, another of michael's uncles, gave up his shop-keeping and assumed the rug expert post at sotheby's London where he remained in charge for about 20 years. Although michael's father Robert, was the least successful of the brothers he was an exceedingly friendly and kind man, both traits his son somehow managed not to inherit.

RK did business with michael in the old days but in 1983 franses's obnoxious penchant for control and domination destroyed that relationship and RK has not had any contact with him since.

We have, however, been privy to many of franses business dealings, especially those done over the last decade with immensely wealthy "mid-east" clients, like the Sheikh.

In all fairness we respect franses's efforts to build the best library of rug books, he is seen in the photo standing in front of his prized book-cases, as well as his study of classical carpets. We do not agree with some of his ideas and conclusions but recognize his concentration on these high culture weavings.

That said let us also remark that his efforts to understand non-classical rugs - like Turkmen, early Turkish Village rugs for example - are not nearly as laudable. In fact, many of franses's ideas and conclusions about them are on par with dennis dodds, who can't discern a circa 1800 late period reproduction Turkish Village rug from the genuine mid-16th century example.

For anyone who doubts this RK suggests a careful look through franses's advertisements in hali magazine where numerous similar rugs to the dud LACMA bought from dodds are pictured. Also check out advertisements from johnny eskanazi, who for decades has fronted pieces for franses or owned them with him as a partner.

Furthermore many of the myriad of later, far from best of type, examples of Turkmen rugs in the pinner collection were bought at franses's behest or from him. Same with a number of Turkmen and Turkish pieces in the Wher Collection, many of which have now been quietly, or not so quietly, spirited out of that collection.

The has been no love lost between RK and franses, as his puny attempts to control what we do and say, as well as his catty practice of spreading stupid stories and innuendo about us, are, in the end, laughable.

To say franses thinks himself king of the rug world might downplay his maniacal obsession to "prove" himself better than his family and others.

We could go on but see no point, as what we have said gets the picture across quite effectively.

By the way, we started calling franses "little lord" because of the great financial success he has had dealing rugs to Sheikhs, Emirs and Sultans.

As it appears he might now have to pay the piper for those riches.

As more details of this story emerge RK.com will be covering it. So stay tuned for more news coverage and analysis.

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