Crossrail, the biggest construction project in Europe, is seeking Gulf investment for the £14.8bn rail network’s public art programme.
A team from the London east-west line last week descended on Art Dubai, where more than 400 museums and foundation visitors gather alongside the region’s wealthy collectors at the Middle East’s largest fair.
In November, they visited Qatar, one of the world’s biggest art patrons as the ruling family builds a major collection for Doha’s suite of upcoming museums.
Canary Wharf Group, part-owned by a unit of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, has agreed to pay up to £500,000 for the public art commission at Canary Wharf station.
“With so many Gulf businesses and wealthy individuals partly based in London or having their European headquarters there, Crossrail is hoping for further donations, strengthening the cultural and economic ties between London and the Arab world,” said Christina Andersen, Crossrail’s art programme manager.
The Corporation of London has pledged up to £3.5m of funding, if it can be matched by private donations.
Crossrail’s permanent artworks will be of “considerable size”, costing up to £1m each, and will remain in place through the minimum 150-year lifespan of the eight stations in central London.
London’s leading commercial galleries, such as White Cube, Lisson, Gagosian and Pace, will each be paired with stations from Paddington to Canary Wharf, offering up shortlists from their rosters of famous contemporary artists.
The first announced project, US artist Spencer Finch’s changing overhead cloudscape, is set to fill the 120 metre station canopy at Paddington.
All installations will also have to be thoroughly tested for their resilience against terrorism and general safety for passing commuters, raising costs further.
London – sometimes described as the “eighth emirate,” a reference to the seven-member federation of the United Arab Emirates – is a popular tourism and investment destination for Gulf Arabs seeking summer bolt-holes.
Pollsters say Gulf states need to improve their image in their favourite foreign capital as Londoners become concerned about the impact that wealthy foreigners, including Russians and Chinese, are having on house prices.
Dubai earlier this month said it would by next March transform four stations on its 75km metro network into cultural showcases for Islamic art and calligraphy, inventions, and contemporary and visual art.
Neighbouring Abu Dhabi, which is locked in a diplomatic dispute with Qatar over the role of political Islam in the Middle East, has also launched several partnerships for its planned museums, such as the Louvre, Guggenheim and Abu Dhabi’s Zayed National Museum with the British Museum.
Crossrail says it is seeking the best global artists in line with London’s diversity.
“This could include Middle Eastern artists, where there is a flourishing contemporary art scene,” says Ms Andersen.