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LACMA Becomes First U.S. Museum to Acquire Saudi Arabian Contemporary Art

Oil is not the only Saudi Arabian product that's hot in Los Angeles these days. It was announced on Wednesday that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Islamic art department will acquire contemporary works from from two Saudi artists, Ahmed Mater and Abdulnasser Gharem, in partnership with Edge of Arabia, a project co-founded by the two artists dedicated to raising the profile of Saudi artists around the world.

It will be the first contemporary Saudi work to be added to the permanent collection of an American museum, according a press release. The two works being added to the collection are Mater's "Illumination Dyptich (Ottoman Waqf)" and Gharem's "Al Siraat (Video)." According to a statement by LACMA's director Michael Govan, Mater's diptych was made especially for the museum. It is currently part of an ongoing exhibition at the museum called "Gifts of the Sultan: The Arts of Giving at the Islamic Courts," which explores the Islamic culture through its tradition of gift giving and runs through September 5. 

Mater's work incorporates both his faith and his first career as a doctor. He takes intricate "illumination" artwork that traditionally decorates the pages of Islamic manuscripts, blows it up, and uses it to frame human x-rays. Gharem also incorporates his other career into his work. He is a lieutenant colonel in the Saudi army, and much of his conceptual art has a moderate political bent — or as political as you can get living and working in Saudi Arabia.

Edge of Arabia, which is sponsoring the acquisition at LACMA, began as an interesting partnership between British photographer Stephen Stapleton, Mater, and Gharem to find Saudi artists to showcase around the world. Their first show was at the SOAS Brunei Gallery in London in 2008 and since they they have sent shows to Berlin, the Venice Biennial in 2009 — the first time Saudi Arabia was represented there — and now Los Angeles. The organization is supported by a myriad of official culture programs including the European Capital of Culture, the Ministry of Culture & Information Saudi Arabia, the British Council, and the German-Arab Friendship Society.

August 11, 2011 | Artinfo