Abu Dhabi to Build Gehry-Designed Guggenheim Museum

Abu Dhabi to Build Gehry-Designed Guggenheim Museum

30,000-Square-Meter Landmark to Establish UAE Capital as Global Cultural Destination

July 8, 2006—Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates in the Persian Gulf, today signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the New York-based Guggenheim Foundation to establish a world-class museum devoted to modern and contemporary art. To be called the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (GAD), the museum, designed by internationally acclaimed architect Frank Gehry, will position the emirate as a leading international cultural destination.


Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: Saturday, July 8, 2006.

Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates in the Arabian Gulf, today signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the New York-based Guggenheim Foundation to establish a world-class museum devoted to modern and contemporary art. To be called the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (GAD), the museum, designed by internationally acclaimed architect Frank Gehry, will position the Emirates as a leading international cultural destination.

At 30,000 square meters, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum will be the only Guggenheim museum in the region and will be larger than any existing Guggenheim worldwide. It is expected that the museum will be constructed within five years.

The museum will form its own major collection of contemporary art and will also exhibit masterworks from the Guggenheim Foundation’s global collections. The museum will be built in the Cultural District of Saadiyat Island—a natural island lying 500 meters offshore the UAE capital which is being transformed into an international tourism destination. The Cultural District will also be home to a national museum, classical art museum, maritime museum, performing arts center and an expansive arts centre park.

“Today’s signing represents the determination of the Abu Dhabi Government to create a world-class cultural destination for its residents and visitors,” said HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and member of the Executive Council. “It also demonstrates the commitment of UAE President and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, to demonstrably establish this emirate as a quality destination of international standing, one capable of achieving and maintaining relationships with the very highest caliber of global partners.

“This is a major step forward in our plans for Saadiyat Island and its Cultural District which will become an international cultural hub for the Middle East on par with the best in the world. The signing also represents a significant development in the creation and nurturing of international cultural ties which we believe will do much to forge greater understanding between all nations.”

Thomas Krens, Director of the Guggenheim Foundation, said the signing reflects the visionary spirit and forward-looking approach that are the Guggenheim’s hallmarks. “Our commitment to international communication and global cultural exchange—realized through our museums, collections, and programs—is inclusive. The Guggenheim implicitly regards all contemporary cultures and their traditions as potential partners in the field of aesthetic discourse—we are both respectful of difference and excited by it.

“In Abu Dhabi,” Krens continued, “we have had the good fortune to discover a partner that not only shares our point of view, but expands upon it. The plans for Saadiyat Island and the cultural district, envisioned and developed by the Abu Dhabi Government, are, quite simply, extraordinary. When this comprehensive and inclusive vision is realized, it will set a standard for global culture that will resonate for decades to come.”

William Mack, Chairman of the Guggenheim Foundation, led a delegation of Guggenheim trustees to Abu Dhabi for the project launch. He said: “It is with a keen sense of historical precedent and with an abiding commitment to cultural exchange as a bridge to international understanding that the Guggenheim Foundation enters into this agreement to establish a Guggenheim museum in Abu Dhabi.

“I congratulate the Government of Abu Dhabi for its foresight in the redevelopment of Saadiyat Island and for its realization that art and culture have a central role to play in enhancing international relations and understanding, and in encouraging greater educational initiatives locally, regionally and internationally.”

According to the MOU, Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC), which manages the authority’s tourism assets, will own the museum. The Guggenheim Foundation will establish and manage the museum’s program, which will include collection development, exhibitions and educational initiatives.

The MOU was signed on behalf of Abu Dhabi by His Highness Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) and TDIC, and Thomas Krens.

“Abu Dhabi’s museum will join a highly exclusive Guggenheim museum network which currently includes New York, Venice in Italy, Bilbao in Spain, Berlin in Germany and Las Vegas,” said HH Sheikh Sultan. “The MOU is testimony to Abu Dhabi’s ambition to become an upscale destination and to ensure that the Abu Dhabi name resonates worldwide.”

His Highness Sheikh Sultan, who is also Chairman of Abu Dhabi Culture and Heritage Authority, also signed an agreement appointing the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Frank Gehry to design the museum. Gehry is the architect of the celebrated Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

“When the museum, made of titanium, glass and limestone, opened in 1997 it was instantly hailed as the most important building of its time,” explained HH Sheikh Sultan. “Just as Bilbao established a new level of design excellence, Gehry’s GAD design brief is to push the boundaries of his own architectural practice and set the benchmark for museums in the 21st century.”

Architectural distinction will be a defining feature for all of the major new structures which will comprise Saadiyat Island’s Cultural District.

“We are currently in negotiations with other world-class international cultural institutions and anticipate making further announcements on the Cultural District’s outstanding projects in the months to come,” said Mubarak Al Muhairi, Director General, ADTA and Managing Director TDIC.

“Cultural tourism is an important component of our redevelopment plan. The power of the arts to attract an international audience is borne out by the fact that with its global locations, the Guggenheim has seen its worldwide attendance triple over the past 15 years. It now welcomes more than 2.5 million visitors annually, making it one of the world’s most visited museums.”

About Saadiyat Island:
Saadiyat Island—which translates from Arabic as Island of Happiness—is the largest single mixed-use development in the Arabian Gulf. The twenty-seven-square-kilometer natural island—half the size of Bermuda—lies only 500 meters offshore Abu Dhabi island—the capital city of the United Arab Emirates. Saadiyat Island is being developed into a complete visitor and residential destination.

Saadiyat Island represents one of the most important development opportunities in Abu Dhabi’s history. The island, which has 30kms of water frontage and boasts many natural eco-features including mangrove forests, is being developed as a strategic international tourism destination and marks a new era in the rapid evolution of Abu Dhabi, the largest of the seven emirates which form the UAE Federation.

Saadiyat Island will be developed in three phases with total completion scheduled for 2018. The masterplan envisages six highly individual districts and includes twenty-nine hotels, including an iconic seven-star property, three marinas with combined berths for around 1,000 boats, museums and cultural centers, two golf courses, civic and leisure facilities, sea-view apartments and elite villas.

Saadiyat Island will be linked to the main Abu Dhabi island and the Abu Dhabi mainland via two, 10-lane freeways making the destination easily accessible to Abu Dhabi International Airport, which will be just a 25 kilometer drive away.

Saadiyat Island is being developed by the Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC), an independent public joint stock company of which Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority is the sole shareholder. TDIC’s strategy is to dispose of development land on the island to private investors who will each develop their sites in accordance with the masterplan and supporting planning regulations and design guidelines.

About The Guggenheim Foundation:
Founded in 1937, The Guggenheim Foundation has the most international outlook of all New York City’s great cultural institutions. The foundation’s mandate is to preserve art and educate the public, and, over the past seven decades, it has amassed a premier collection of modern and contemporary art.

The Guggenheim Foundation currently owns and operates three museums: the Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue, New York City; the Peggy Guggenheim Collection on the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy; and the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum in Las Vegas.

The foundation also provides programming and management for two other museums in Europe that bear its name, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, and the Deutsche Guggenheim, in Berlin. Through a unique alliance agreement, the Guggenheim Foundation shares its collections and collaborates on programming with the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the Kunshistorisches Museum in Vienna.

About Tourism Development & Investment Company:
Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) is a public joint stock company established under Law No: 12 of 2005 as decreed by the Abu Dhabi Ruler and UAE President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. TDIC is an independent organisation empowered to manage the tourism investment zones of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), which directs and implements strategy for the expansion of the emirate’s tourism sector. TDIC will develop the real estate assets that support ADTA’s mission of assisting UAE economic diversification through tourism development.

TDIC shareholding, fully owned by ADTA, operates along strictly commercial lines with its projects being self-sustaining and economically feasible. Its activities include creating development and tourism related concepts for specific sites and locations, disposing of, or repositioning, government-owned tourism related assets, entering into joint ventures with investment partners for assets such as hotels or residential products, as well as serving as the master developer for large scale projects.

About Abu Dhabi:
Spread over 87,340 square kilometres, Abu Dhabi is the largest of the seven emirates which make up the United Arab Emirates and accounts for more than 85% of the country’s total landmass. The UAE is one of the six members of the Arabian Gulf Co-operation Council.

Abu Dhabi city, built on the largest of almost 200 natural offshore islands in the emirate, is the capital both of the emirate and of the UAE. It is the federal seat of government and home to most ministries and institutions, embassies, state broadcasting facilities and oil companies.

Abu Dhabi’s population is currently around 1.6 million and is expected to grow by 6.8 per cent per annum over the next decade to a projected 3.4 million by 2015.

Abu Dhabi has an estimated 9.2% of the world’s proven oil reserves and 4% of its total proven natural gas reserves. The emirate has a per capita income of approximately US $30,000. Realising the challenges posed by the country’s heavy economic reliance on finite carbon resources, the emirate’s leadership is actively pursuing economic diversification. 

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