Fairs Museums United Arab Emirates

Architects to quench fears about Abu Dhabi building delays

Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel and Norman Foster to take part in panel discussion at Abu Dhabi Art fair next week

Frank Gehry (centre) in Abu Dhabi

In a move designed to show that the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is firmly on track, the architect Frank Gehry, who has designed the museum on Saadiyat Island, is due to take part in a panel discussion next week at the modern and contemporary art fair Abu Dhabi Art (7-10 November). He joins two other leading architects designing museums on Saadiyat Island: Jean Nouvel and Norman Foster, who are respectively responsible for the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Zayed National Museum.

The debate will focus on the theme of the “Birthing of Skylines”, covering topics such as the role of architecture in society and architectural legacy. “It’s symbolic that these three architects are speaking together in the Saadiyat Cultural District as the museums they designed are being realised around them,” says Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, the chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, the state-owned organisation behind the fair.

At Abu Dhabi Art last year, however, there was speculation that the Guggenheim project in the UAE capital was under threat. “The Guggenheim is certainly not cancelled,” said the US ambassador, Michael Corbin. “It’s just delayed due to cash flow problems and the Arab Spring” (The Art Newspaper, November, 2011).

Earlier this year, state officials announced that the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi museum will now open in 2017. When the emirate and the New York-based Guggenheim Foundation joined forces in 2007, the planned opening date was 2012, later put back to 2014. The Louvre Abu Dhabi is due to launch in 2015, and the Zayed National Museum in 2016 (the latter is being developed in partnership with London’s British Museum).

The fourth edition of the fair, meanwhile, includes 50 regional and international dealers including Lisson Gallery and Hauser & Wirth, both from London, and Thaddaeus Ropac of Salzburg. Gagosian Gallery, which has just opened a vast second space in Paris in the le Bourget district, is also looking to collectors in the Gulf. Key Middle Eastern dealers such as Lam Art Gallery of Riyadh and Dubai’s Ayyam Gallery should appeal to a local client base.

Last year, some international dealers found buyers but sales were patchy. Participating galleries this year are banking on institutional patronage. “We always look forward to seeing major collectors from Abu Dhabi as well as those from Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and other international locations. We are looking forward to the patronage of [collectors] Zaki Nusseibeh, Dr Farhad Farjam, Paula Cussi and Mohammed Afkhami,” says Ricky Lee, the communications director at Leila Heller gallery in New York.

“We are bringing works by Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, which we find to be very relevant as so many Middle Eastern artists have been influenced by these two legendary American Abstract Expressionists,” Lee says. The gallery will also show works by the Iraqi artist Ayad Alkadhi, painter Rashid Khalifa from Bahrain, Nigerian artist Iké Udé and the British-born Iranian photographer Mitra Tabrizian.

Andrée Sfeir-Semler, the founder of the Beirut-based Sfeir-Semler gallery, hopes “to place our artists in the upcoming museum collections”. Works by Marwan Rechmaoui, Wael Shawky, Gabriel Kuri and Timo Nasseri will be available on her stand. “[Abu Dhabi Art] is more local than the Dubai fair [Art Dubai]: it is mainly the Abu Dhabi sheikhas and sheikhs, as well as the curators of the [planned] museums [who attend],” she says.

Agial Art Gallery of Beirut is due to present a thematic exhibition “Modern Abstraction in the Levant”, featuring artists such as Adam Henein, Nassir Chaura and Fadia Haddad. “Abu Dhabi Art is more oriented towards high end institutional clients,” says Saleh Barakat, the gallery’s founder.

The talk "Architecture Visionaries" takes place on 7 November, 6:30pm at the Manarat Al Saadiyat Auditorium

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9 Nov 12
15:23 CET


At Abu Dhabi Art Gehry was asked how his museum design reflects Emirati culture. He said he observed how people in Gulf gather together, how they protect themselves from sun and heat and he worked intuitively to come up with the design. "I can't imagine making a building with blue cones anywhere else.....I fell in love with this region". On importance of art: "art is a way to bring together people of different cultures and beliefs." And this visionary says he doesn't know how to turn on the computer. Straightforward and genuine.

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