Abu Dhabi is often overshadowed by glitzy Dubai, but this dynamic metropolis is fast becoming the Middle East’s top art hub. With ambitious plans for a “culture island,” the upcoming opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a slew of contemporary galleries and a recurring international arts fair, Abu Dhabi aims to attract collectors and everyday enthusiasts alike.
Here are few ways the United Arab Emirates capital is creating its cultural experiences.
Saadiyat Island, about 11 miles northeast of downtown Abu Dhabi, is quickly turning into the city’s dedicated culture district. The developing artistic hub is home to a 250-seat theater and three other major galleries: the Foster and Partners-designed Zayed National Museum, the soon-to-open Louvre Abu Dhabi and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.
Debuting in November 2017, the Louvre Abu Dhabi has been about 10 years in the making. Designed by Pritzker-winning architect Jean Nouvel, the sinuous building seems to rise out of the desert — a contemporary take on Arabic architecture with a super-sized white dome and geometric motifs. The project, a collaboration between France and Abu Dhabi, brings together about two dozen permanent galleries of historical artworks from around the world (some dating to the third millennium B.C.), a 200-seat auditorium, a restaurant and a dedicated children’s museum.
The highly anticipated Guggenheim Abu Dhabi doesn’t have an opening date yet, but the building will certainly aim to impress. Designed by Frank Gehry, the experimental-looking structure was inspired by traditional Middle Eastern wind towers.
While construction continues, the emirate has engaged with Guggenheim to organize several temporary exhibitions, including the recent “The Creative Act: Performance, Process, Presence,” which ran from March to July 2017 and brought together work from 20 artists of varying nationalities and generations.
A landmark festival
Taking place on Saadiyat Island every November, Abu Dhabi Art is the city’s largest luxury art fair and festival. Each year, more than 20,000 visitors descend on the island to view local artwork, international exhibitions, interactive installations, street art, workshops, satellite events and more.
The fair not only highlights international artists with hopes of attracting Emirati collectors, but it also offers local and regional talents the chance to showcase their works.
Contemporary art galleries
In case your travel dates don’t coincide with a festival, Abu Dhabi also offers a collection of contemporary art galleries worth exploring. Located by the water at Zayed Port, Warehouse 421 is a cool creative hub that cultivates local art and provides a home base for the burgeoning community.
Etihad Modern Art Gallery is another popular choice that’s best known for casting a spotlight on emerging regional talents in the contemporary world and hosting classes for budding Picassos.
Also worth visiting are N2N Gallery, home to both European and regional art; Gallery One, for established Middle Eastern artists; and the community-oriented Abu Dhabi Art Hub.
Hotels are getting in on the action, too. The glamorous Emirates Palace — the former host of the annual Abu Dhabi Art fair — organizes several exhibitions throughout the year. Coming up in December, travelers can admire famed Australian fashion photographer Anthony Horth’s works peppered around the property. Wandering the regal grounds, you will also spot paintings, mosaics and marble details that make the resort feel like a gallery.
Likewise, the contemporary Rosewood Abu Dhabi has also included more than 250 pieces from local and international artisans in its public spaces and guest rooms. Along the 189-room treasure’s many corridors, you’ll find stop-you-in-your-track works from gemstone painter Fareen Butt, San Francisco artist Damon Hyldreth and others.
And for Middle Eastern talents, check out Salwa Zeidan Gallery at The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi. The space shines a spotlight on emerging artists and ambitious installations.