Sultan of Brunei and Dior Foundation find a new ally in art in Paris

Written by Natalia Elena Gaeta, CNN Paris, France

Richard Blum’s German paintings have long been so famous that, at the annual Chambre Syndicale Art Basel Miami Beach, when they are in competition, they often get most of the attention.

Blum’s recent pastels are not nearly as famous, however, since they are owned by French Sheikh Khaled ibn Ali bin Abdul Razzak al-Nahyan. Their paintings and pastels are in Paris this week as part of an exhibition for Blum’s works at the Dior Foundation.

Khaled in 2010 in New York. Credit: Dior Foundation

This is the first exhibition in Paris of the works of a non-European artist, and the first time that any work by an Arab, especially one from the Gulf, is being exhibited.

The interior of the Dior Foundation where the paintings are housed. Credit: diorfoundation

“I think it’s a great opportunity for all people to look at what’s happening in the Middle East today, the very dynamic moment in Arab art,” said Blum, whose works are normally in museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Louvre in Paris.

“It’s important that the Sultan [of Brunei] and the other royal families worldwide take a broader look at what’s happening in the Arab world and understand that it is much more complex than what many of them are always willing to understand,” he added.

Blum grew up in Trinidad and Tobago, where his father worked as a ceramicist, and traveled extensively. In the 1960s, the artist explored his native region, following the “tradition of Renaissance iconography that is found in Creole, Chinese and Islamic art forms,” according to the exhibit text.

Khaled has expanded his art training since. “I later attended a Monet workshop in Caux in Switzerland,” he said. “I studied cubism with (Jean-Paul) Bolles in Paris and went to Italy to study landscape with (Orazio) Gentile and (Alessandro) Jacopetti.”

Sultan of Brunei himself flies in for the exhibition. Credit: /Getty Images

In the 1970s, Blum trained as a visual painter and began creating figurative works. It was not until he translated his influences into American schools of art that he began creating landscapes. The style evolved with the times, after Blum became disillusioned with the representation of the past through the use of Asian and African materials.

When asked what he hoped visitors to the exhibition would come away with, Blum responded, “I hope that people, even if they are not an art collector, will be curious about the medium of pastels and, more importantly, be inspired to do what I do now, which is making a discovery about the hidden hand of great painters.”

“I think you can’t have democracy without education.”

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