By: Claire McKown
May 29, 2012
Located near the coast in Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Island is a place that while perhaps not well known right now, promises to become a major location in the art world within the next ten years. As of right now, there are four museums being built and developed there, including branches of the Louvre and the Guggenheim. NYU’s even opening a campus on the island. Architects by the names of Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Zaha Hadid, and Tadao Ando are being brought in for various projects around the city, which is just one sign of the amount of money that is being spent on developing this area. Oil wealthy royal families are funding this expansion, intent on making the Middle East a big player in the arts.
But what does this mean for the art world? For one, obviously, it means that there is a new destination to visit on the map for those in the art world that is outside of the United States and Europe. But unlike Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, or Johannesburg (all cities with thriving and growing contemporary art scenes), Abu Dhabi offers a rather particular vision of the art being made today. In an article published this past March in Le Parisien it was reported that four pieces of art dealing with themes around the Arab Spring were removed from the most recent Art Dubai fair. While this is not necessarily a surprising move given the social and political status of the Middle East, it is not a very reassuring move for what promises to be a new art world destination. If artists are already being censored in the region, that says that Abu Dhabi will not be a place for artists to question and critique with the same freedom that they have in other parts of the world.
While it is certain that the development of Saadiyat Island will lead to a fair amount of artistic patronage, the type of art that is being produced will have to be carefully critiqued.