July 08: The Latest Guggenheim (For Now)
2016/07/08 § Leave a comment
On this day in 2006 the government of Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim signed an agreement to build a museum.
The Guggenheim family has one of the most profound names in modern art, and are to credit for making so much of their vast collection open to the public. Starting in the mid-twentieth century they started a habit of building spectacular museums by name-brand architects, starting with Frank Lloyd Wright’s flagship in New York, followed more recently by the Frank Gehry building in Bilbao. Most recently they have made plans for another Gehry building in the United Arab Emirates.
The three Guggenheims, as a group, reveal some significant strategic differences. The New York museum was built in what was, hands-down, the capital of modern art in the world. Nothing like the same could be said of Bilbao, a huge city in the north of Spain, removed from its centers of culture and tourism. And now Abu Dhabi, the up-and-coming dream in the desert, a city constructed with the force of volcanic willpower and a gulf-ful of riches from oil reserves.
The Abu Dhabi Guggenheim is planned as one of the jewels of Saadiyat Island, which will indeed be a glittery thing if these projects ever really get off the ground (this one in particular has been stalled for some time now). Among the other proposed mega-museums, the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim presents special challenges. Its dual focus, to honor the Guggenheim tradition of modern and contemporary art, and its place in the capital of the UAE, narrows the pool of resources considerably–there just aren’t that many artists out there who can serve both part of the mission and attract, but not offend, the local audience. Worse yet, the human rights abuses on the building site have prompted artists to boycott the project, narrowing the resources of really good artists from the Middle East even further. The curators are faced with a strange problem, having gazillions to spend to be able to fill up the acres of museum (and needing to do it quickly–maybe the greatest art splurge in history since the Hapsburgs decided they liked paintings), and nothing to spend it on. You can almost bet on the fact that if and when this thing finally opens, the building will outshine the art. And if you know the Muse, you know that is saying something.
Image: rendering of the new Goog