Spread over across 27 sq km Saadiyat Island will not only provide an unprecedented cultural experience boasting a new Louvre and Guggenheim but combines it with such things as the "Gulf's first tidal and ocean golf courses". FAM looks at whether this will be an expensive folly or the beginning of a cultural power shift towards the Middle East.
Are tourists going to be flocking to visit Abu Dhabi now?
Let's face it Abu Dhabi and Dubai are practically empty, the streets are deserted and those enormous hotels are post-apocalyptic. Now, finally with these museums there is a genuine reason to visit this super-rich desert state—cultural tourism is going to flourish! VERDICT: HIT!
Many critics see Saadiyat Island as a turning point in cultural history but will it really have genuine significance?
The liberal ideals of these museums will form a fascinating collision with the strict social codes of the more traditional Islamic Emirates. Louvre Abu Dhabi wants to create a "shared universal memory" and aims to avoid the isolation of cultures to offer a comprehensive history of art. On the other hand the official website states that Norman Foster's new Zayed National Museum will "explore key moments in the life of Sheikh Zayed and his transformation of the UAE." Could this all be just a grand vanity project? VERDICT: DRAW. We won't know for sure until all the museums are fully-open in 2017.
Is it worth spending 1.3 billion dollars for a 30-year association with the Louvre Museum in France, including the temporary use of its name?
The affiliation certainly bestows prestige on this whole project but does that really justify 1.3 billion dollars for just loans, management advice and a name? Effectively art and culture are being put into the service of money and power, a scenario that undermines these liberal institutions' very foundations. VERDICT: MISS!
How will the locals deal with the nudity in Western Art?
The Emirates nations will have to learn to love the Western nude—nude men, nude women, nude cherubs, you name it there is a naked one. Will they be horrified or lining up round the block to get in? VERDICT: HIT! Everyone will be queuing to see the masterpieces of Western art like Louvre Abu Dhabi's recently purchased Paul Gauguin's Wrestling Children, 1888.
With 5 Pritzker Prize winning architects Frank Gehry, Sir Norman Foster, Jean Nouvel, Zaha Hadid, and Tadao Ando is this going to be an architectural wonderland?
In terms of architecture Saadiyat Island will indeed be second to none with an astonishing array of star-architects on its books, but really Gehry to do another Guggenheim? And another Foster & Partners steel construction? Even the Iraqi-born Zaha Hadid has spent nearly all of her working life in Britain. Surely it was time to use a bit of local talent and not go for the usual suspects. VERDICT: MISS!
Can Saadiyat Island really be considered diversification when Abu Dhabi still exports 2.3 million barrels of crude oil a day and owns 10 per cent of the world’s proven hydrocarbon resources?
The master plan of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founder of the UAE, was to give his country something to fall back on once the petrol dollars had run out, namely education and a diversified economy. One day, when the oil is gone, all these museums and galleries will still be in Abu Dhabi and thriving. VERDICT: HIT!
RESULT: A HIT, but a close run thing.
Although Saadiyat Island could have been a bit more adventurous it is impossible to argue with its resources and cultural firepower—even a New York University campus is part of the project. The project could turn into a dull propaganda drive for the United Arab Emirates but done well Saadiyat Island could prove to be a major linking point for the world's cultures and give insight into the history of humankind.