7 Reasons Why Abu Dhabi is the Next Art and Design Capital

by Robb Report Studio | Robb Report

Remember when Europe was the uncontested center for the arts? Sure, the Old World still has a lot to offer in that arena, but lately, Middle East culture hubs are giving them a run for their money—literally. Emirati wealth is quickly absorbing vast amounts of the world’s art, which will undoubtedly make the UAE one of the most admired art centers in the world in the coming years, and it’s already well on its way. Abu Dhabi in particular is leading the pack: Paris is no longer the only city to lay claim to the Louvre; the Guggenheim chose Abu Dhabi for its next location; and the Zayed National Museum is being built by star architect Norman Foster.

Art, design, and architecture can make or break a destination, and Abu Dhabi is poised to surpass dozens of artsy destinations across the globe. If you’re a culture vulture, the cosmopolitan Arab city is guaranteed to be on your art radar. Here are seven reasons why:

1. Pritzker-winning architect Jean Nouvel designed the Louvre Abu Dhabi

Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi

When Paris’ famous Louvre Museum chose to open its second location in Abu Dhabi, the impact was nothing short of monumental. The Louvre Abu Dhabi is the first of three world-class museums to open on Saadiyat Island, which has become the cultural hub of Abu Dhabi.

The building itself—which includes a 591-foot floating silver dome comprised of 7,850 stars, at various sizes and angles in eight different layers—is an extraordinary feat, designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Jean Nouvel. Considered by many to be one of the most versatile and intentional designers of the last half century, he also built perforations in the Louvre’s dome allowing for the sun’s rays to cascade in throughout the museum—a detail referred to as the “rain of light” effect and Nouvel’s way of honoring the island’s natural beauty.

Inside is equally illuminating with artwork from Rembrandt, Vermeer, and permanent pieces ranging from archaeological wonders to modern works by artists like Ai Weiwei.

2. Historic Qasr al Hosn got a facelift

Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi

Established as a watchtower and fort in 1761 by Sheikh Dhiyab Bin Isa, Qasr Al Hosn is known as the oldest stone building in Abu Dhabi. Recently refurbished and renovated, the city’s most significant landmark has been transformed into a museum narrating the history of the Emirate. The interactive experience explores Abu Dhabi’s history, providing insights into the lives of the rulers and people who lived in the Outer Palace. In addition to the permanent displays, Qasr Al Hosn will host a variety of events including archaeological and architectural tours. The complex also includes the newly rehabilitated Cultural Foundation, which hosts diverse programming in its new Visual Arts Centre.

3. Discover modern art at Manarat Al Saadiyat

Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi

The original player in the city’s modern art scene and the first art space to find a home on Saadiyat Island, Manarat al Saadiyat has become a cultural hot spot for locals and visitors alike since opening in 2009. The venue offers a wide variety of exhibitions in multiple disciplines, performances, film screenings, conferences, and workshops, including classes in printmaking, photography, and robotics. Manarat Al Saadiyat also boasts a 250-seat auditorium, an outdoor events terrace, a café and brasserie, three galleries, and photography and art studios. Essentially, there’s something for everyone.

4. Immerse yourself in Arab gallery culture at Etihad Modern Art Gallery

Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi

The gallery scene in Abu Dhabi is still growing but Etihad has been one to watch since it opened in 2013. Housed in an Al Bateen villa, its exhibits rotate monthly and feature a diverse crop of international artists. During the summer, the focus is on UAE artists. The adjacent Art House Café is perfect for coffee and a quick bite.

5. Saadiyat Island is adding the Zayed National Museum and the Guggenheim

Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi

Saadiyat Island is getting two more jewels in its crown: The Zayed National Museum and an outpost of the Guggenheim Foundation, which will both open near the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Being planned in memory of the UAE’s founding president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Zayed National Museum’s building boasts an impressive design by world-famous architect Lord Norman Foster and features towers shaped like falcon wings to commemorate Zayed’s love of falconry. Meanwhile, the Guggenheim, which currently has museums in New York, Venice, and Bilbao, was designed by Frank Gehry and is sure to challenge how we think of architecture today. The museum’s collection will include art from across the globe, from the 1960s to present day.

6. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi

The largest mosque in the country, the grand mosque was built between 1996 and 2007 and was designed by Syrian architect Yousef Abdelky. The impressive design draws from Mughal and Indo-Islamic mosque architecture and the materials used in its elaborate construction include marble, gold, crystals, and various semiprecious stones from around the world. The mosque contains many superlatives: The handwoven carpet in the main prayer hall is considered to be the world’s largest, measuring 60,570 square feet and weighing 35 tons; the courtyard contains the world’s largest marble mosaic; and the seven massive chandeliers (the largest of which is the third largest in the world) contain millions of Swarovski crystals.

7. Yas Marina Circuit showcases a state-of-the-art F1 track

Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi

If you need a break from the refined arts scene, Abu Dhabi also delivers a different type of cultural experience with its technological design marvel: the Yas Marina Circuit. Designed by German racing driver and circuit designer Hermann Tilke, the F1 racetrack features 21 corners and the longest straight on any current F1 circuit (3,848 feet), as well as five fully covered grandstands that hold 60,000 spectators. And this year, Robb Report’s flagship event, Car of the Year, makes its way to the Middle East for the first time at Yas Marina Circuit, March 2–5, 2019. Guests will be able to test drive some of the world’s best luxury and performance cars on the exceptional track and will stay at the Emirates Palace, another architectural beauty and five-star hotel in Abu Dhabi.