Guggenheim Abu Dhabi to focus on commissioning 'enriching' artworks, curator reveals

Stephanie Rosenthal, project director, says local and international artists are being invited to create engaging pieces

The planned Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, which is scheduled for completion in 2025. Photo: Gehry Partners, LLP
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With the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi on track to be completed by 2025, the museum's curators are now looking at focusing its collection and launching programmes for international artists to work in the region.

Designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, who is also behind the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, the UAE site is set to be the latest and largest outpost of the Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation’s list of international museums.

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is expected to house important modern and contemporary artworks from West Asia, North Africa and South Asia, displaying a collection that aims to spur cross-cultural exchange and collaboration.

The collection has been in the works for more than a decade, Stephanie Rosenthal said during a virtual event on Wednesday, which announced the programmes slated for Guggenheim institutions around the world this year.

Rosenthal was appointed as Guggenheim Abu Dhabi’s project director by the Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation in May, having served as the director of Gropius Bau in Berlin and the chief curator at the Hayward Gallery in London. She works alongside Maisa Al Qassimi, who leads as acting project director on behalf of DCT — Abu Dhabi.

“The collection is something that has been built for 15 years by excellent curators,” she added. “It’s not one that we’re going to build in the next two years. It is a deeply-thought endeavour.”

The commissions that will be part of the collection, Rosenthal said, will also help spur long-lasting conversations between the institution and the public, both locally and internationally. They will also “dance with the building” through its carefully curated placement.

“One thing we’re all excited for now is the commissions,” she said. “We started the process of inviting artists to come here to do research, to work with the local culture and learn more about the building. We’re going to start rolling that out in 2024.”

In the meantime, the museum is eager to continue its work with local artists and commissions.

“Now that we’re in full force with finishing the building [of the museum]. We’re looking to enrich that conversation with the region,” she said. “That has been a scope for many years now, and working with Reem Fadda, a key person at DCT — Abu Dhabi and Maisa Al Qassimi, means that there have already been commissions with local artists.”

The museum is approaching its collection and commissions according to three benchmarks, Rosenthal said, ensuring that it resonates within a local context, responds to the museum’s architecture and cultivates a collaborative space.

“There are three areas that we’re working in when thinking about the collection and the commissions in the next year or two,” she said. “One is really the place we engage with the history, geography and the elements. We want to make sure the institution is engaging with the local audience. Then there’s the space itself, the outstanding architecture by Frank Gehry. The placement of the bespoke works in what we call the cones will help create an atmosphere.”

The last curatorial pillar when considering the collection, Rosenthal said, will be dedicated to creating a space of kinship within the museum. It is, she said, arguably the most important of the three ideas.

“It’s how we work with artists together and through research projects to create a place that instills a feeling of belonging, of hosting, of gathering and kinship.”

Located in the Saadiyat Island Cultural District, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will be neighbours with some of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the country, from Louvre Abu Dhabi to the forthcoming Natural History Museum, Abrahamic Family House and Zayed National Museum.

After the project was first announced in 2006, construction on the museum began in 2011. Rosenthal said Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is still slated for a 2025 completion date, with the opening date set for some time “shortly after".

“We’ll need enough time to bring the artworks in,” she said.

Scroll through images of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi's art workshops hosted by Emirati artist Najat Makki below

Updated: January 21, 2023, 6:12 AM