Guggenheim Abu Dhabi's collection grows as curatorial team shrinks

Second exhibition is announced as building stalls in Emirate


The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi’s second, collection-based exhibition is due to open next March, three years after mainly abstract works acquired for the planned contemporary art museum were first shown in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The announcement comes amid speculation over the momentum of the much-delayed project, which was launched ten years ago, prompted by the recent departure of two key members of its curatorial team.

The project’s associate curator for Middle Eastern art, Reem Fadda, and its assistant curator, Fawz Kabra, both quietly left this summer, reducing the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi’s New York-based team of curators from five to three.

The exhibition, The Creative Act (8 March-29 July 2017) is being organised by the remaining curatorial team for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi project, which is led by Valerie Hillings. It will include international works made since the 1960s that focus on the artist’s role in creating works. To be held at the visitor centre Manarat Al Saadiyat in Abu Dhabi, the show will feature 25 installations, paintings, photography, sculptures, videos and works on paper, and include 18 international artists. Richard Armstrong, the director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, says in a statement that the exhibition will demonstrate “some of the dynamic, original curatorial research underway for the future Guggenheim Abu Dhabi”. A museum spokeswoman stresses that work on the planned museum’s curatorial strategy and collection “is continuing apace”.

After the departures of the two curators this summer, some wondered whether it could indicate a change of direction for the project. Guy Mannes-Abbott, a member of the activist group Gulf Labor, which campaigns against the mistreatment of migrant labourers on Saadiyat Island and across the UAE, thinks that the project will become “a moving feast” shown in existing spaces under the Guggenheim brand rather than in the planned Frank Gehry-designed museum.

Divided into three themes, The Creative Act will include the London-based Pakistani artist Rasheed Araeen and the Emirati artist Mohammed Kazem in a section on performance and a number of works on paper and a video installation by the German-Egyptian artist Susan Hefuna in the section titled Presence. Works by Niki de Saint Phalle, Günther Uecker, and the Japanese artists Kazuo Shiraga and Atsuko Tanaka will feature alongside those by Anish Kapoor in a section about artists and their creative process. “Many works in the exhibition focus on particular locales, among them Abu Dhabi, London, New York, Paris and Tokyo,” Armstrong says.