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Abu Dhabi: Art capital of the Middle East

The rise of Abu Dhabi as a global force within the Middle East has not only propelled the country’s economic and political prominence, but it has also prompted a new wave of exciting artistic and cultural innovations and development. With several high-profile museum openings proposed over the next few years, and the expansion of the newly developed Saadiyat Cultural District, the Abu Dhabi art scene is fast becoming a draw for artists and culture vultures alike.

One of the key centrepieces of this new cultural district is the Louvre Abu Dhabi, an awe-inspiring pinnacle of art across the Middle East. Here, visitors can experience a comprehensive selection of collections spanning a variety of disciplines within its equally stunning walls. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, the building encompasses both pioneering contemporary architecture and traditional elements inspired by the region. Set right by the sea, it offers eager tourists incredible views of the coast via a number of shaded promenades littering the outer parameter of the building.

Opening in 2017, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will be the other star attraction of Saadiyat Island. The exterior, a design of world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, is a work of art in itself. Featuring giant cylindered entrances that jut out from each corner of the main building, Gehry describes the structure as “intentionally ‘messy’, moving into clarity the deeper visitors move into the space. The pre-eminent platform is anticipated to become one of the most significant artistic centres across the Middle East, alongside the Louvre.

But among these juggernauts are also some impressive independent galleries that are transcending national and international perceptions of art in the region and delivering a much-needed platform for emerging artists. Among the forerunners is Etihad Modern Art Gallery. Situated in central Abu Dhabi, the gallery has led the way in showcasing moving exhibitions from celebrated artists based throughout the Arab world.

Salwa Zeidan Gallery’s move to Saadiyat Island has helped to reassert its status as one of Abu Dhabi’s top contemporary galleries.  Located within the stunning St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, the gallery has attracted big names in the Emirati art world including prolific artists Alia Ali Al Farsi and Hussain Sharif.  Another early contributor to the Abu Dhabi art scene well that is worth visiting is the Ghaf Gallery, set up by renowned artist Jalal Luqman and art patron and entrepreneur Mohammed Kanoo. The gallery remains dedicated to supporting and promoting local artists on an international scale and is an important hub for creative arts in the area.

A unifying element of the diverse and burgeoning Emirati arts landscape has been the formation of the annual Abu Dhabi Art fair. Bringing together top galleries and museums from across the region, the fair exhibits museum-worthy artworks, large-scale installations and special curated exhibitions. Held in Manarat Al Saadiyat in Saadiyat Cultural District, there are a number of workshops for all ages that visitors can take part in, too.

Experiencing Abu Dhabi art has never been easier, and the vibrancy of this developing cultural awakening is sure to make the rest of the world take note.


Written by Chantelle Symester

Image credits:

Exterior view of the Louvre © Gabriel Jorby:Flickr

The UAE Pavilion in Saadiyat Cultural District © Abu Dhabi Arts Fair