Originally planned to open this month but now postponed to Spring 2016, FAM takes a closer look at Louvre Abu Dhabi, the centerpiece of Middle East's new cultural metropolis.
In a previously uninhabitable desert location known for its soft sand dunes and turtles, $30 billion has so far been invested into constructing the world's largest cultural hotspot. In an ambitious attempt to make art less west-centric, Saadiyat Island will aim to kickstart a contemporary art scene on a par with London and New York, bridging the gap between Eastern and Western art and forming an unprecedented alliance between the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and Europe.
The huge investment in cultural projects follows a decision by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi to focus more on culture and "human capital"—to invest in sustainable projects to lessen its dependence on oil exports that will eventually run out. The new Louvre Abu Dhabi has already started flexing its considerable financial muscle with purchases of a previously unseen Picasso painting Portrait of a Lady, 1928 and Gauguin's Children Wrestling, 1888. Both bought from private European collectors these will form part of a growing 130 piece permanent collection in Abu Dhabi that also features Magritte and Manet.
The project has so far not been without controversy, not least the $1.3 billion that has been spent by Abu Dhabi to be associated for just 30 years with the Louvre name—the first time a museum outside France has been allowed to use the Louvre title. In response, prominent figures on the French cultural scene have accused France's Louvre of behaving like a corporation with a clearly defined strategy, "profit maximization." Experts, archaeologists, and art historians from around France have petitioned against what they see as a devaluation of their most prized cultural asset.
Despite these controversies this new cultural metropolis will also boast the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi designed by Frank Gehry, the Zayed National Museum designed by Norman Foster, a New York University campus, the Performing Arts Center, the Maritime Museum, and a vast complex of 5-star hotels and leisure facilities. It has yet to be confirmed whether the cultural affinities of the people share the will of the ambitious and moneyed ruling elite. But there is no denying that Saadiyat Island has galvanized major institutions and galleries in the West into bolstering their Middle Eastern collections.