Saadiyat Island guide

Louvre, Guggenheim abd more arty happenings in Abu Dhabi

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Louvre Abu Dhabi’s new preview exhibition offers a glimpse of what’s in store for 2015. Jenny Hewett takes a tour to find out what else the future holds for the area.

Surrounded by mangroves and turquoise waters, Saadiyat Island is just an hour’s drive from Dubai. Access from Dubai is best made via Yas Island and after a long, straight, drive, Saadiyat Island appears in the foreground, a hub of villas construction – and now artistic treasure. For this summer the culturati don’t need to travel to Paris to get up close with art greats such as Picasso, Édouard Manet and René Magritte.

These heavyweights are just a few of the icons forming the extraordinary 130-piece exhibition from the Louvre Abu Dhabi collection, currently on show at the Manarat Al Saadiyat visitor’s centre. Entitled ‘Birth of a Museum’, the exhibition is a teaser of what to expect when the Louvre Abu Dhabi opens at its permanent home on Saadiyat Island in 2015, the latest in a string of plans for the picturesque development off Abu Dhabi.

Taking viewers on a journey through the ages, the works illustrate the core theme of the museum as a universal hub for creativity. ‘In a way, the museum is about human imprint through artistic expression, all the way from antiquity to contemporary,’ Hissa Al Dhaheri, project manager of Louvre Abu Dhabi enthusiastically explains as she gives me a tour. ‘It will display art from different civilisations in an interrelated way, chronological but not compartmentalised, and through a dialogue between cultures, illustrating similarities from shared human experience,’ she says. Universality will be part of the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s identity, and its geographical location is ‘at the centre of its story’, curatorial director of Agence France-Museums, Laurence Des Cars, informs me.

‘This is an original project born of two symbols; Louvre as a symbol of culture, openness and education, and Abu Dhabi as the crossroads between East and West,’ he says. The French Louvre and Louvre Abu Dhabi will have a ten-year relationship with four exhibitions running each year.

But the Louvre Abu Dhabi is really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to plans for Saadiyat Island. One of five cultural venues planned for the area, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Zayed National Museum, Performing Arts Centre and Maritime Museum will eventually join it, making the island the first place in the world to house buildings designed by five Pritzker Architecture Prize winners, including Jean Nouvel, Frank Gehry and Lord Norman Foster.

With the Louvre set to arrive in 2015, work is now well underway to get the cultural hotspot off the ground. Nabil Al Kendi, chief development officer at Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), tells me the site was handed over to the contractor to start work in January. ‘According to the construction timeline, the museum’s concrete frame will be completed by the first quarter of 2014. Work on the geometric lace dome will be completed by the end of 2014 and the final stages, which include marine works, will be completed by 2015,’ he says.

The 27 sq km island aims to house 145,600 residents as well as seven districts including Saadiyat Cultural District, Beach District, Marina District, Promenade, Reserve, Retreat and Lagoons. ‘TDIC is currently focusing on developing Saadiyat Beach District, the tourism hotspot on the island that will have a number of five-star resorts, a beach club and a golf course, as well as residential communities,’ says Al Kendi. ‘The Saadiyat Marina District will be home to the New York University Abu Dhabi campus and the surrounding university neighbourhood, where there are a number of commercial land plots for sale,’ he says.

On my visit to Manarat Al Saadiyat one sunny afternoon I notice the area is already built up with tasteful Mediterranean-style villas, which, according to Al Kendi, have already attracted plenty of interest. ‘Last year was a busy one for us, we saw a number of residential properties handed over on Saadiyat, and the moving in of our first tenants on the island, a mix of locals and European expats.’ he says. Meanwhile, since their launch in September 2012, 60 percent of the land plots located on the island’s Gary Player-designed championship golf course have been sold to regional and international investors keen to build a dream home on the green.

For the rest of 2013, Al Kendi says the focus will be on the beach district and surrounding area. The public beach on Saadiyat Island opened in March and now plans are underway to ensure it has proper facilities to entice visitors to spend the day there. ‘BAKE, a beach-specialised operator, will manage the 400-metre beach stretch. A wide range of facilities will be introduced in the third quarter of 2013 including a snack lounge, a store selling beachwear and sports equipment, and eco-friendly watersports activities, such as windsurfing and sailing,’ says Al Kendi. Meanwhile, by the second quarter of this year, the St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort plans to open a new complex featuring 25 restaurants and shops. Hotel bigwig Rotana has also claimed a spot of land on the island and will open Saadiyat Rotana Resort by 2015.

On top of that, educational facilities are high on the list. ‘TDIC announced in March 2013 its partnership with internationally recognised academic operator Kids First Group to open Redwood Saadiyat Nursery in the third quarter of 2013,’ says Al Kendi. This will be joined by higher education institutions Cranleigh Abu Dhabi as well as New York University Abu Dhabi next year.

But until the museum and education centres are completed, Manarat Al Saadiyat will be the focus of the island’s cultural programme, hosting regular talks and workshops, which everyone hopes will continue to stir excitement about the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi. ‘It’s all part of the overall Saadiyat vision,’ says Al Dhaheri. ‘What better way to understand different cultures than to see how they express themselves and what they believe. We’re bringing the world to Abu Dhabi through all of this artwork,’ she says.
Birth of A Museum is free and runs at Manarat Al Saadiyat until Saturday July 20, www.saadiyat.ae (02 406 1400).

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