The largest auction house in the U.S. is in talks to develop a contemporary art program with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has set multiple ambitious agendas for his desert kingdom. Turning it into a major cultural destination may end up being one of the highest-profile.
For part of the plan, the Saudi government has turned to Sotheby’s, the biggest U.S. auction house, and Allan Schwartzman, the co-chairman of its fine art division. He rose to fame by creating an arts dreamland in the Brazilian jungle for a mining magnate who was later convicted of money laundering.
The Saudi cultural center would take root in Al-Ula, an archaeologically rich region in the northwest of the country. There, the Nabateans, a formerly nomadic tribe of skilled craftsman and traders, carved elaborate buildings out of sandstone more than 2,000 years ago. The region contains an ancient city, Mada’in Salih, which was Saudi Arabia’s first Unesco World Heritage Site.
Whether the project will proceed as planned is a mystery—perhaps as enigmatic as the fate of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, the $450 million masterpiece that hasn’t been seen in public since another Saudi prince bought it at auction last year.
Schwartzman’s connection is twofold: He serves on the advisory board of the Royal Commission for Al-Ula, an entity overseeing the region’s development, and he leads Art Agency Partners, Sotheby’s art advisory arm, which submitted a plan for a sprawling contemporary art initiative on the site.