Recovery. This is a common global goal for the foreseeable future. What would it take? How to mark progress? Beyond vaccination rates and health data, analysts examine box office results from movies, sports and other live events to see if a city, nation or the world is “back.” . Navigating closures and social distancing measures made something obvious: Culture is at the heart of societies. When people come together in shared spaces to exchange creative ideas, the We collective thrives. After the complex challenges faced by the arts in 2020, this year has brought better news. The inauguration of the Pinault collection on the Paris Bourse de Commerce, the reopening of Broadway after an 18-month hiatus and the success of F9: The quick saga made international headlines. The latest story in the sign of the times is the official announcement that Abu Dhabi’s highly anticipated Guggenheim Museum is nearing completion in 2025. Frank Gehry’s billion dollar vision has secured one contractor to bring in another cultural landmark in the emirate. It will be the largest Guggenheim outpost in the world, adding to its must-see portfolio in New York, Bilbao and Venice. The groundbreaking collection is dedicated to art from West Asia, North Africa and South Asia, with priority given to underrepresented artists and art forms. I spoke with HE Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT Abu Dhabi), to learn more about this historic partnership, the changing role of a museum itself and the growing value of culture for urban development in a post-pandemic world.
Why does Abu Dhabi (or the world) need another art museum?
We celebrate the world’s cultural institutions in Abu Dhabi. The happier we are because they make the tapestry of life richer for all. In addition, we try to lead by example. When this project was launched over a decade ago, it became clear that contemporary museums do not represent “all” artists in terms of heritage, gender, etc. We saw an opportunity to create a new model for a space that does not respect borders and limits. Our concept is based on intersection and interaction, on connections and exchanges. Over the past five years, we have brought together nearly 600 works of art from over 300 artists from 60 countries. They are artists whose work has never had the chance to be seen, understood and cherished on such a level.
What dictates the geographic extent of the collection?
Everything we do here belongs to a world stage. Even to focus on the artists of the Gulf, we must recognize that the history of art in this region is an epic story shaped by centuries of trade, migration and cultural exchange between North Africa and the ‘Asia, and later Europe. Guggenheim Abu Dhabi aims to share this vision with a new perspective.
Is the museum still a relevant format for cultural storytelling?
Yes and. Museums can no longer be storage places for precious things. It is not enough to walk around quietly looking at objects. Museums must become spaces where people interact with ideas and engage with each other. A museum should be a place of opportunity and of belonging. Our intention was not just to attract tourists with incredible buildings, but to foster an educational dialogue on architecture, art, urban development. If we do our job well, we can set the tone for inclusiveness and connection for the future.
How does the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi assess the breakthrough in digital arts and NFT sales?
It is clear that this is a new form of expression. It is a milestone in the history of world art. In fifty years, people will write: “By 2021, a new artistic movement is born. Of course, we have to be a part of it, which is why we are actively developing guidelines and policies to protect works, purchasers and artists. Then we will integrate the NFTs into our collections and programs.
You said previously that culture is an essential industry. Do you still hold it true?
More than ever. Keep in mind that businesses and societies must evolve. Our strategy has always identified all aspects of culture as essential for development. Encouraging creative minds leads to new platforms for new ideas. The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is both a message of generational change and a center for spreading that message. Its economic contribution is vast: from construction to customer service, including suppliers, etc. We have seen the great impact of Guggenheim Bilbao. It transformed the city from its industrial past into a major cultural hub and destination. We hope this partnership will help governments see the great potential of investing in culture. We hope this is just the start of something bigger, not just in the Emirates but also elsewhere.
The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is one of the emirate’s quintessentially ambitious endeavors. How are the other cultural projects evolving?
The beautiful Etihad Arena is now open. He recently hosted Disney on ice the. It was so great to see families and kids again enjoying a great show in public. Along with the presence of Louvre Abu Dhabi, a number of cultural institutions are already under construction, such as the Zayed National Museum and the Abrahamic Family House, and more institutions will be announced in the near future. Now is a good time to plan a visit.
Abu Dhabi is known as an excellent shopping destination, but it does not have the status of a true fashion capital. Could fashion be the next frontier of development?
The Gulf is one of the world’s leading fashion importers. It also has its own rich fashion DNA. We have beautiful traditional styles of abayas, jewelry, shoes that are modernized by local talent. We want to create a campus that could organically support design, production and sales for brands based in Abu Dhabi. It’s easier to just organize a fashion show with a famous brand. To think long term, we are starting to connect artisans with big names for unique collaborations. You can buy a one-of-a-kind Nike that combines the brand’s history with our heritage. It is breathtaking. Made in Abu Dhabi. Creating a globally recognized fashion industry takes time, but we have seen from the example of the Korean and Japanese markets that it is possible.
What is the most pressing question you are thinking about now?
How can I continuously improve the quality of life of people through cultural institutions? The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is neither the beginning nor the end. We are on a very long journey!