The Centre Pompidou’s Museum Partnership With Saudi Arabia Just Became Clearer

New details have emerged about the Centre Pompidou’s landmark agreement with Saudi Arabia over its new open-air museum in the desert region of AlUla.

“We are negotiating an agreement that the Pompidou can borrow from our collection and that we can borrow from theirs,” curator Iwona Blazwick told the Art Newspaper, which first reported the news of the partnership deal. “It’s all about reciprocity. We want our collection to be active in lending works, particularly for artists who are planning survey shows; our ethos is artist led.”

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The new museum is also acquiring contemporary works by visual artists such as Yayoi Kusama, Carmen Herrera, Manal AlDowayan, Etel Adnan, and Ibrahim El Salahi for its permanent collection.

Blazwick was formerly director of the Whitechapel Gallery in London for two decades and is now chair of the Royal Commission for AlUla’s Public Art Expert Panel. She told the Art Newspaper she hoped to host a show of works at the new venue from the French institution that were chosen by Saudi artists.

The French contemporary art museum first announced a contract to help develop a new museum at AlUla in March. In May, Art in America’s Devorah Lauter reported that “the Pompidou will provide expertise, training, and guidance in art conservation, education programming, and exhibition planning.”

The UK curator also told Art in America that the museum would highlight art from the region and under-represented parts of the world, while staying “committed to a carbon neutral model” inspired by the local architecture and environment.

Blazwick, who holds the official title of Curatorial Lead, Contemporary Art Museum, AlUla, said she wanted the Centre Pompidou to collaborate with organizations like Art Jameel in Dubai and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in Delhi, and to provide training opportunities for Saudi curators.

“We hope that the Pompidou will host and mentor colleagues from Saudi in either Paris or at one of their many satellites,” Blazwick told the Art Newspaper.

Other new details about the contemporary art space at AlUla include Paris-based Lebanese architect Lina Ghotmeh being chosen as the building’s designer. Ghotmeh recently designed the 22nd Serpentine Pavilion in London. Her firm has also done projects with the Natural History Museum in Denmark, the Sara Hildén Art Museum in Finland, and the Estonian National Museum.

Blazwick told the Art Newspaper the collections would focus on the ancient civilizations in AlUla during the Nabataean period, from approximately 400BC to AD100; a series of immersive environments; permanent, site-specific works for the ancient valley of Wadi AlFann; and permanent gardens.


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