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ARTS & BOOKS May 2007
 Saadiyat Island
The youngest off-spring of the Guggenheim family
by Elodie LECADIEU

A new Guggenheim museum will open in 2012 in Abu Dhabi, bringing to six the number of such art-cum-business ventures.

The Guggenheim Foundation has signed an agreement with the Abu Dhabi emirate to build a new museum on Saadiyat Island. This will be the sixth Guggenheim museum after those of New York, Berlin, Bilbao, Venice and Las Vegas.
It will be part of a vast complex, and is destined to become "the centre piece of a cultural and financial quarter"*. Saadiyat means happiness in Arabic, but in the case of this project, its sponsors hope it will be synonymous with delight and sumptuousness. The complex will be composed of three other museums, a concert hall, art galleries, luxury hotels, two golf courses, and even an indoor ski slope. To build this "upscale cultural district"*, the emirate's capital is planning to set aside $27 billion, of which $400 million should be devoted to the construction of the new Guggenheim.

The museum will be designed by the famous American architect Frank Gehry, who already has one Guggenheim commission under his belt, having designed Spain's highly-acclaimed Bilbao museum. Construction work on the 30 000 square meter building is set to last five years, and when finished, it will be the biggest of the group's six museums.

The aim, according to Thomas Krens, director of the Guggenheim Foundation, is to reconcile the modernity and daring of contemporary art with the cultural and religious values of the Emirate. The museum will acquire its own collection before the opening, planned for 2012, and will also exhibit works belonging to the Guggenheim Foundation. Contemporary art from all over the world will be displayed, alongside Near and Middle Eastern art, in order to foster cultural exchanges and interactions.

This project will enable the oil-rich but museum-poor Persian Gulf Emirate to develop tourism, and compete with neighbouring Dubaï. Sheik Sultan bin Tahnoon al-Nahyan, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, said the Emirate's ambition was to "reach an arts and architectural level never before achieved"**. The fame of the Guggenheim Foundation, created in 1937 and renowned worldwide, will surely help.

*"The race for art island : Louvre and Guggenheim battle it out," The Guardian 22 November 2006.
**"Plans for "Desert Louvre" provoke outrage in France," The Washington Post 11 March 2007.

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