In Saudi Arabia’s capital city, the art scene is buzzing with a swell of local artists anxious to showcase their talents to a growing admiring public clamouring for more. With a limited number of galleries, taking in the best of Riyadh’s art and culture requires minimal time but yields a substantial reward.

The work on show offers a deeper understanding of Saudi Arabia’s rich heritage and Islamic traditions and helps to underscore universal human connections.

Saudi man looks at art at a children's art show at the Kingdom Tower in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Riyadh has a limited number of art galleries, but the work on display gives an understanding of Saudi Arabia’s heritage © Tim E White / Getty Images

Change has taken hold in the Kingdom. Recent government initiatives are encouraging Saudis to honour their history and faith through creative expression, and artisans have answered the call. On the global stage, Saudis are being celebrated, most notably with this year’s exhibits at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC and the Venice Architecture Biennale. Within country, the Saudi artistic wellspring coincides with the announcement of a new 14-day tourist visa that will be issued in conjunction with future entertainment and sporting events. This synergy of art and tourism is an opportunity for national artists to define and reframe this once cloistered and mysterious kingdom.

Whether you’re a collector, an art enthusiast or neophyte watercolorist looking for inspiration, now is the time to devote a few hours or even a weekend exploring Riyadh’s essential art galleries, which offer something for every taste.

Art works on display at Naila Art Gallery, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Naila Art Gallery is one of the most popular galleries in the city and features pieces from Saudi artists © Elizabeth Branca / Lonely Planet

Naila Art Gallery

Located on one of Riyadh’s chicest streets, Naila Art Gallery is one of the biggest and most well-known contemporary art venues in the city. It regularly features work from acclaimed Saudi Arabian artists, including Abdullah Al Marzook, Ahlam Al Shedoukhy and Shrouq Bnt Fahad, but also exhibits regional masters such as Syria’s Sabhan Adam. Beyond the bold red door, Naila’s two gallery spaces are laid out in aesthetic perfection. High ceilings and a fresh modern interior have a welcoming vibe, and visitors are encouraged to drop in. Artist bios and information are displayed in both Arabic and English so you can easily peruse the gallery independently, but staff are on-hand to answer any questions. Exhibits change every few months, so it’s a perfect spot for seasonal visits. As a leader in Riyadh’s arts community, Naila Art Gallery aims to support young artists and cultivate art enthusiasts through a variety of programs, art talks and workshops.

Interior of Mono Gallery with displays of sculptures and paintings, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Mono Gallery is Riyadh's newest art space © Elizabeth Branca / Lonely Planet

Mono Gallery

Opened in February 2018, Mono Gallery is Riyadh’s newest contemporary fine art gallery and showcases talent from Saudi Arabia and from across the Middle East. An homage to modern architectural allure, the three galleries host a melange of artistic mediums. Exhibits change seasonally and have included Saudi Arabian painter Abdulaziz Al Najam, Emirati watercolorist Abdul Qader Al Rais, and Iraqi master sculptor and painter Sabah Arbilli.

Once a month, the gallery hosts a film night that showcases close-ups on famous artists like Monet and Da Vinci. The one-of-a-kind social event is an initiative dreamed up by gallery founder Momen Al Moslimani in hopes of cultivating more interest in art and art education in the Kingdom. A passion for art prompted Moslimani to open the gallery, but he aims for more than just selling paintings; he hopes to promote more opportunities for creative expression as well as more public interest in contemporary art. In addition to its exhibits, Mono Gallery hosts seminars, symposiums and art talks.

Private collection room at Hewar Art Gallery, with a Gustav Klimt-inspired mural and other works on display
Don't miss the Hewar Art Gallery's private collection room with its incredible wall mural and extraordinary views © Elizabeth Branca / Lonely Planet

Hewar Art Gallery

Located at the poshest address in the city, Hewar Art Gallery feels akin to taking a bespoke luxury holiday: blissful. The gallery is open to the public, but because of the Kingdom Tower’s security measures, all visitors must call the gallery before arrival. The gallery reps will meet you in the lobby and then usher you up to the 52nd floor. Originally a stunning private residence, this extravagant pad was turned into a public gallery by avid art collector Shatha Al Tassan, who is intent on sharing her art knowledge and appreciation with others. Upon entering the gallery, visitors can’t help but be impressed by the expansive city views via a wall of windows that drench the gallery’s two rooms in a soft glow; in fact, this is one of the most spectacular public spaces in the city.

Hosting solo exhibits from Saudi and regional artists, past shows have included Iraqi artist Akeel Abbas Al Awssi, Tunisia’s Nja Mahdaoui and Saudi Arabian artist Hanan Bahamdan. Hewar’s staff are on hand to provide guests with refreshments and offer tours of the gallery’s exhibits. Ask to take a peek into the private collection room that flanks the gallery, and prepare to be awestruck. A massive Gustav Klimt-inspired mural adorns the back wall and a menagerie of paintings and sculptures keenly populate the space.

Black and white painting installation from Saudi artist Nasser Al Turki
L'Art Pur Gallery opens for exhibitions, such as this installation from Saudi artist Nasser Al Turki © L'Art Pur Gallery

L’Art Pur Gallery

One of the largest art showcase spaces in the Middle East, L’Art Pur Gallery is part of the L’Art Pur Foundation and associated with Arts and Skills Institute, which both support and promote Saudi artists and creative talent. The three gallery halls regularly host contemporary exhibitions from local and international artists encompassing art, fashion and design, in addition to hosting annual competitions, workshops and seminars. Highlights of past shows include the work of Spanish master Joan Miró but also featured national artists such as Abdullah Hammas, Tarfa Fahad and Zaman Jassim. The gallery’s state-of-the-art lighting and sound system offers an impressively immersive experience. Within the gallery, there is a boutique that features high-quality handmade goods and decor for sale, a great spot to shop for special gifts. L’Art Pur Gallery does not house a permanent art collection, and the gallery is open only when hosting an exhibit. Current and upcoming exhibit information is updated and announced via their social media and mailing list.

Works on display at Noqtah Studio, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Noqtah Studio is run by artist Talal Al Tukhaes, a sculptor and art collector © Elizabeth Branca / Lonely Planet

Noqtah Studio

Artist Talal Al Tukhaes is a well-known Saudi sculptor as well as a respected collector in the Riyadh art scene. His work has been commissioned and displayed in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman, but when he isn’t working on a new piece, he is curating art shows for various embassies and diplomats or travelling throughout the region to collect and promote work from other artists. Known for his keen eye for upcoming talent in the fine art world, Tukhaes is the go-to guy when in the market for buying Arab art. By appointment only, Tukhaes welcomes collectors and art enthusiasts into his home studio gallery. Inside the studio, his work is prominently featured, but it also includes a robust display by Saudi and regional artists. Tukhaes’ sculptures are crafted from mostly local materials: marble, obsidian, quartz and other stones. Because of the size of the space, the collection on show is limited, but there is a catalogue of work on hand, as well as an extensive contact list for artists in Tukhaes’ creative circle of friends for inquires about additional pieces.

SAMA has a selection of art supplies and books in both Arabic and English, a rare find in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
SAMA has a selection of art supplies and books in both Arabic and English, a rare find in Riyadh © Elizabeth Branca / Lonely Planet

SAMA Creatives Hub

Truly a creative epicentre in Riyadh, SAMA Creatives Hub is a large gallery space that offers so much more. Beyond the modern glass facade and colourful urban mural, the sprawling two-storey space displays an array of paintings for sale throughout. For art patrons on a budget, this is the perfect place to purchase the work of up-and-coming locals and newly established regional artists. Making art accessible to everyone is part of SAMA’s mission, which aims to promote creative expression in the Kingdom and peaceful coexistence across the globe. In addition to what's displayed on site, SAMA houses an extensive collection of paintings and other mediums in an offsite space that can be visited upon request.

Together with exhibited works, the ground floor includes a small bookstore offering a selection of adult and children’s art books in English and Arabic a rare find in the Kingdom. For hobbyists and artists alike, there is an essential stock of art supplies including paints, quality canvas and paper. Weekly workshops allow SAMA to support Riyadh’s burgeoning art community and their educational classes and seminars are a great way for artists to connect. Not only a place for artists to advance their skill set, SAMA especially encourages families with children to visit and participate in the workshop’s creative activities and classes.

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