Art review: Birth of a Museum, Manarat al-Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi

4.00

 

Stalled by downturns, delays and even the threat of a boycott by artists over the conditions of the building workers, Abu Dhabi’s masterplan to convert a vast sandy swathe of Saadiyat Island into a world-beating “cultural quarter” has sometimes looked like a desert mirage.

The emirate’s vision of a destination arts complex designed by the starriest of starchitects - a local Louvre by Jean Nouvel, the Gulf’s Guggenheim by Frank Gehry, the Sheikh Zayed National Museum by Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid’s Performing Arts Centre – has remained a lot less tangible than the pharaonic hotels already glowering over Saadiyat beach.

No longer. Last week, at the Manarat Al-Saadiyat visitors’ centre, the Louvre Abu Dhabi (due to open in 2015) unveiled a 130-strong selection of the 460 works so far acquired for Nouvel’s still-embryonic landmark. Although the Paris mothership will offer around 300 loans, the bulk of the Abu Dhabi exhibits will be bought for, and stay in, the Gulf. One sign of the times: a first-class Mondrian, snapped up in 2009 at the Paris auction of the Yves Saint Laurent-Pierre Berge collection.   

Divided into ten sections, ‘Birth of a Museum’ offers both a whistlestop tour of world art and a snapshot of the big ideas behind the “Louvre of the sands”. The first “universal” museum in the Arab world, it takes a comparative, eclectic and cross-cultural approach to art history. The show draws on the notion of the Arabian peninsula as “a land of convergence” to present a careful account of global art as a polite to-and-fro between warily respectful but discrete cultures. Much like today’s UAE itself, you might say.

Many individual items are exquisite enough to warrant a trip: classic Indian miniatures from James Ivory’s collection; superb Iznik ceramics; a captivating bronze cockerel from Benin; a sumptuously inlaid octagonal box of the Tang dynasty. There are great, little-known pictures by Picasso and Gauguin; a flawless Bellini Madonna; a spine-tingling Magritte. And yes, in answer to a frequently-asked-question, in the buxom shapes of Lagrenee’s “Bathing Nymphs”, you’ll come across the fruitiest of 18th-century nudes.

As for the overarching concept, I detected an unresolved tension. One strand pulls towards a timidly “multicultural” model of art, with each tradition put in its box and placed side by side (say, an ancient Qur’an, Talmud and Biblical carvings in the same case). A bolder “intercultural” ideal admits that mix and muddle drive creative change. By 2015 (let’s hope), the Louvre will lay out its philosophy in the full three dimensions, For now, this global assortment of jewels gives us the strongest proof so far that the Saadiyat vision amounts to more than just lines in the sand.

 

‘Birth of a Museum’, Manarat al-Saadiyat, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE; 09.00-20.00 until 20 July; www.saadiyatculturaldistrict.ae

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

    Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

    After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
    The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
    Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

    Tate Sensorium

    New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
    10 best sun creams for kids

    10 best sun creams for kids

    Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
    Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
    Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

    Remember Ashton Agar?

    The No 11 that nearly toppled England
    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks