Britart in the frame in UAE’s culture zone

Britart in the frame in UAE’s culture zone
By Staff writer
Sat 09 Dec 2006 08:00 PM

Tessa Jowell, the UK’s Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport, has met with the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) to talk about a possible involvement in Saadiyat Island, the capital’s US$27bn cultural development.

Although a spokesman for the developer of Saadiyat refused to comment on the exact details of the talks, it is believed that one area of discussion was the possible involvement of a UK art institution.

Saadiyat, a 27 sq km island 500 metres offshore from Abu Dhabi city, will become home to five art galleries including the Middle East’s only – and the world’s largest – Guggenheim museum. Designed by the architect Frank Gehry, the Guggenheim Foundation’s 30,000 sq ft Middle East outpost is due to open in 2012.

There has been much speculation over the remaining four galleries, including the possibility that a branch of Paris’s Musée du Louvre – home to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa – will open on the island. The galleries are to be the centrepiece of the development, which is part of the emirate’s diversification strategy into tourism.

It is understood that Jowell’s office made an approach to the ADTA to arrange the meeting, which was held at 3pm last Tuesday in Dubai with ADTA chairman Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan. Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan is also chairman of the emirate’s Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC). A spokesman for the TDIC said that, while no specific details could be disclosed, the two discussed “cultural and tourism developments in the UAE capital and opportunities for UK involvement.” He refused to comment on whether any UK galleries, such as the Tate Modern, had expressed interest in Saadiyat.

The spokesman also told Arabian Business that an announcement concerning the other galleries would be made “in the next two to three months.”

Arabian Business contacted Tessa Jowell’s Department for Culture Media and Sport, however a spokeswoman did not offer a comment in time for publication.

Last month, a French government delegation visited Abu Dhabi to discuss a deal that would see a museum open on the island containing works from the Louvre. It was tipped that French architect Jean Nouvel would design the building.

“There are discussions between us and the Louvre, but there are discussions between us and lots of people," added the TDIC spokesman.

The negotiations between Abu Dhabi and Paris are thought to have been ongoing for at least a year. French newspaper Libération posed the question as to whether the deal was the “most novel and controversial deal in the history of French cultural politics.”

As the Guardian newspaper in London reported, the Guggenheim and the Louvre would not exhibit any works likely to cause offence in their proposed Middle East galleries, such as nudes or artwork focusing on certain religious subjects.

Saadiyat Island – which translates from Arabic as ‘Island of Happiness’ - is the largest single mixed-use island development in the Arabian Gulf.

According to promotional material it is “being developed as a strategic international tourism destination and marks a new era in the rapid evolution of Abu Dhabi.”

Linked to the main Abu Dhabi island via two ten-lane freeways, Saadiyat will be developed in three phases with total completion scheduled for 2018. It will comprise of six districts, 29 hotels (including a seven-star property), two golf courses and three marinas with combined berths for around 1,000 yachts.

Saadiyat Island is being developed by the Tourism Development & Investment Company, an independent public joint stock company of which Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority is the sole shareholder.

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