Abu Dhabi Guggenheim will have “potentially unlimited” budget

ABU DHABI. Buying contemporary art for the new Guggenheim museum in Abu Dhabi, scheduled to open in 2012 in a building designed by Frank Gehry, has already started. The acquisitions budget is “potentially unlimited”, according to Zaki Nusseibeh, the culture adviser to the Abu Dhabi Authority. Mr Nusseibeh made his remarks to journalists in Abu Dhabi last month, to the mild despair of outgoing Guggenheim foundation director Tom Krens—who has been closely involved in the project and will now serve as consultant to it. “The dealers will all put their prices up when they hear this,” he told The Art Newspaper in his office in New York.

Abu Dhabi’s plans to open branches of the Guggenheim and the Louvre (in a building designed by Jean Nouvel) by 2012-13 remain on schedule, according to Mr Nusseibeh. The two projects are the first phase of a $27bn “cultural district” on Saadiyat island.

The departure of Tom Krens from the Guggenheim in New York has been viewed positively in the Gulf. “He will be more available [for us] now,” said Mubarak Al Muhairi, director general of the Abu Dhabi Tourist Authority. “Other Guggenheim initiatives didn’t go through for political or financial reasons, but we have sealed this agreement, and it is now in the construction phase. Mr Krens will be coming regularly to work on the project,” he added. The Guggenheim has not revealed the amount it will receive for the contract; in the case of the Louvre, the total cost to the emirate is E1bn.

While preparation of the island for development is going ahead, buying has already started for the new museums. The annual acquisitions budget for the Guggenheim has not yet been revealed, but is thought to be at least as large as the Louvre/Abu Dhabi’s minimum of $62m per year. “The budget will be flexible,” said Mr Al Muhairi. “If something we really want is two or three times the annual amount, then we will buy it. We expect the budget to grow as the years pass,” he said.

All acquisitions will be approved by an advisory committee, according to Mr Nusseibeh. The members of this have not yet been announced. “We have already had hundreds of offers from collectors and galleries,” said Mr Al Muhairi.

Purchases made by the authorities in Abu Dhabi so far include a large work by Keith Haring at the Art Paris fair held in the emirate last November, as part of an agreement made with the organisers to support this event. Purchases made at the fair will only go to the new museums if they are approved by the advisory committee says Mr Nusseibeh. According to Art Paris’s co-founder Caroline Clough-Lacoste, these acquisitions totalled about $18m.

Georgina Adam

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