The Centre Pompidou in Paris is expanding its global empire, signing a deal to develop a museum of contemporary art in the burgeoning AlUla region of Saudi Arabia. The new agreement between the Beaubourg gallery and the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU)—the Saudi government cultural body led by the country’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—was finalised 12 March.
A photograph showing Laurent le Bon, the Centre Pompidou president, and Arts AlUla executive director Nora Aldabal signing the agreement was posted on Twitter. Prince Badr bin Farhan, the Saudi Minister of Culture and Governor of RCU, and the French Culture Minister, Rima Abdul Malak were also present at the ceremony. An opening date has not been confirmed for the Saudi satellite branch.
“@RCU_SA has selected @CentrePompidou as key partner in developing a contemporary art museum at AlUla as a world centre for regional and global 21st century art. The museum will be an architectural landmark in its own right,” the RCU tweeted 13 March. The outpost would be the latest addition to the international network of satellites launched by the Centre Pompidou, which runs annexes in Metz in northern France, Shanghai and Malaga.
The Centre Pompidou says in a statement that the new Saudi partnership aims to support the enhancement and development of the cultural, artistic and creative aspects of the AlUla site. “The Centre Pompidou will contribute its scientific and technical expertise in the training of staff, particularly in the areas of conservation management of collections and mediation. It may also provide support for the organisation of cultural and event programming,” it adds.
According to The National newspaper, the new museum will house “a collection of contemporary Middle Eastern, North African and South Asian art with immersive installations by artists from every inhabited continent. It will also feature examples of 21st-century land art and a public art commissioning programme.”
The proposed Centre Pompidou project is the latest France-driven arts initiative to be launched in Saudi Arabia. The Afalula agency, founded in Paris in July 2018, is the result of an intergovernmental agreement signed by France and Saudi Arabia (Afalula works in partnership with the Royal Commission for AlUla).
A French critic, who chose to remain anonymous, says: “The French/Saudi partnership is part of a drive to promote the cultural credentials of Saudi Arabia, helping to diversify the economy and deliver a more ‘open’ image of the country, in line with the government’s Vision 2030 plan.” But between 2015 and 2022, an average of 129 executions were carried out each year in Saudi Arabia. The Centre Pompidou had not responded to a request for comment about the human rights issue at the time of publication.