These heads of state know better than to sell their oil wealth

For Sheikh Isa Bin Salman Al Khalifa, a concept of beauty — and the art of love — stretches well beyond his young bride. He plans to donate, together with other charitable donors, a collection of 5,000 objects to the French city of Arles, which will be framed as a permanent exhibit, possibly in the new Musee du Chateau de Detton. It was a simple decision for the new royal who’ll be Dubai’s 35th ruler — the name here means head of state in Arabic.

Al Khalifa, and his father Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar, are among a half-dozen monarchs or heads of state who, either voluntarily or because of royal decrees, have donated art or artifacts to a worthy cause since the 1990s. Often these people were relatives of two enemies who discovered that their sires’ weapons stores had been converted into armored cars and customized museum-quality collections.

Also passing along their collections to a foreign venue are the king of Bahrain, who gave some of his family’s treasures to Germany, and the crown prince of Kuwait, who transferred his aunt’s furniture collection to the U.S. He made the deal for his country to receive more than 200 rare and valuable manuscripts written by the prophet Muhammad (you can see a scan of those artifacts at the Middle East Media Research Institute).

Other governments have supported private institutions with artifacts: Italy sponsored a major exhibit at the British Museum; Norway has given 400 items to the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky museum in Russia; and Kenya has given furniture and collectibles from the villages of Zanzibar.

One reason why foreign governments and states have donated their treasures is because they realized that an art collection has come to symbolize something — a passion, self-confidence, wariness — in the new technology-based societies of the 21st century. Mummy-like featurette films and museum-sized arms is little more than a local version of video-equipped dollhouses, enabling children to feel like “real” children as they enter into a tribal society described in the text panels. (To see “Paradise Lost”)

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