Abu Dhabi's Louvre, Guggenheim and Zayed National Museums: Mediating a "New Global Arabism"
In 2006, the government of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE) revealed its ambitious plan for a multi-billion dollar development project, the Saadiyat Cultural District, which will feature several major museums: the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and the Zayed National Museum (planned in collaboration with the British Museum). The museums, combined with a Performing Arts Centre, an art park, and satellite campuses of the Paris-Sorbonne University and New York University, are set to transform Abu Dhabi into a global cultural centre, instigating a so-called “cultural renaissance” in the region (Al Qassimi, 2013). It is the transnational cultural and economic dimensions of this remarkable investment in culture that I propose to study. My proposed research will examine Abu Dhabi’s museum boom as a point of entry for critically investigating the cultural politics of the UAE as a young modernizing Arab nation and emerging economy against the background of 21st century globalization, interrogating its significance at this specific post-colonial, post-oil historical moment. The research questions leading this project are: What cultural and symbolic capital do these museum institutions embody through their collections, exhibitions, and relations to European and American institutions? What political aspirations and claims do they mediate for their various stakeholders (including the government, the western institutions, the artists and curators, the public), and what forms of national identity (Anderson, 1983:2006) do they create and reflect? How are the museums being shaped in form, intent, and curatorial practice by the political economy of the contemporary UAE (marked by the immense influx of migrant labor and foreign investment), as well as that of a global art world?