The ambitious new museums announced by Abu Dhabi in and around 2007 have missed so many deadlines that doubts arose as to whether they would ever open. The public discussion held during the Abu Dhabi Art fair with the three directors of the Western museums involved was therefore an intentional message of confidence in them on the part of the authorities.
On 18 November, Richard Armstrong, the director of the Guggenheim Museum, Neil MacGregor, the outgoing director of the British Museum (advising the Zayed National Museum), and Manuel Rabaté, the chief executive of Agence France-Muséums (standing in for Jean-Luc Martinez, the director of the Louvre, who was unable to attend in the aftermath of the Paris massacres), climbed onto the dais to talk about the roles of their respective museums. The event, which was oversubscribed, took place during a very well-attended edition of the annual fair, which was full of Emiratis of both sexes and not just ex-pats, as was the case when it started in 2007.
In the first row sat Mohammed Khalifa Al Mubarak, the man who was put in last year by the de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, to finish the whole Saadiyat Island development, including the museums. Now the chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (replacing Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan), Al Mubarak is the chief executive of Abu Dhabi’s biggest property company, Aldar Properties, and has experience of successfully completing a number of vast developments, including Abu Dhabi’s Formula 1 circuit. Although none of the museum directors actually mentioned an opening date, back in Paris the Louvre committed itself to later this year, probably December, while the Zayed National Museum and the Guggenheim are finally being put out to tender.