Ex-Guggenheim Director Thomas Krens Thinks Abu Dhabi Project Should Be Scaled Back

Strong words from the man who first oversaw the project.

A rendering of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, designed by Frank Gehry. The museum was scheduled to open in 2017. Courtesy of the Guggenheim.

Thomas Krens, the former director of the Guggenheim Foundation who set its Abu Dhabi project in motion in 2006, has spoken out in favor of scaling back the building of five major museums on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi.

Krens spoke on the Art Agency, Partners‘ podcast “In Other Words,” in conversation with Charlotte Burns, senior editor at Art Agency, Partners, and Eric Shiner, senior vice president of contemporary art at Sotheby’s.

“It may not be such a good idea these days to have an American museum, essentially with a Jewish name, in a country that wasn’t recognized diplomatically by the Emiratis, meaning Israel, in such a prominent location at such a big scale,” he said, in cautious disapproval of the project.

In today’s landscape, globalization in the art world is a much more politicized topic than it once was.

“The conditions that exist in the Middle East are unbelievably complex,” Krens explained.

“Why are the Louvre and the Guggenheim, The British Museum involved in Abu Dhabi? It has to do with capital. This is a country that in the 1960s was Medieval, it only had 15,000 citizens … Starting in 1970 they became the richest people in the world, period because under the sands of Abu Dhabi are 10 percent of the world’s oil. Because they have the wealth, they have the luxury of being able to look at the west and ask a very simple question: ‘Well, what do we need?’” he continued.

Krens went on to link the cultural presence in the UAE with the American, French, and British military presence that accompanies it.

He also suggested that the the Louvre Abu Dhabi opening was considered a testing ground for the other projects under construction on the island which were originally intended to open at around the same time, but whose status is now largely unknown to the public.

“[The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi] was a gigantic project and the word is that it’s still underway. It was supposed to open in 2012, to my calculation that was five years ago. The foundations and the footings are in but, who knows?” Krens mused.

The current Guggenheim administration has confirmed that the project will be going ahead in a statement published by the Art Newspaper.

“A team of curators based in New York and in Abu Dhabi has been actively developing a curatorial strategy and collection for the future museum,” it reads.

“As we continue to work toward the museum’s opening, we are pleased to work with our partners, the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, on a range of ongoing initiatives in education, public programming, and professional development as well as the recent opening of the second exhibition from the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi collection, the Creative Act, in Abu Dhabi.”

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.