Abu Dhabi: Art Capital of the Middle East

Skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi | Abu Dhabi: Art Capital in the Middle East


The rise of Abu Dhabi as a global force within the Middle East has not only propelled the country’s economic and political prominence but it has also prompted a new wave of exciting artistic and cultural innovations and development. With several high profile museum openings proposed over the next few years, and the expansion of the newly developed Saadiyat Cultural District, the Abu Dhabi art scene is fast becoming a draw for artists and culture vultures alike.

Model of the Lourve Abu Dhabi design | Abu Dhabi: Art Capital of the Middle East

Model of the Lourve Marko © Kudjerski/Flickr


One of the key centrepieces of this new cultural district will be the Lourve Abu Dhabi, an awe-inspiring pinnacle of art across the Middle East. When it opens in 2015, visitors will be able to experience a comprehensive selection of collections spanning a variety of disciplines within its equally stunning walls. Designed by Pritzker prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, the building encompasses both pioneering contemporary architecture and traditional elements inspired by the region. Set right by the sea, it will offer eager tourists incredible views of the coast via a number of shaded promenades littering the outer parameter of the building.

Exterior view of Lourve | Abu Dhabi: Art Capital of the Middle East

Exterior view of the Lourve © Gabriel Jorby/Flickr


Opening in 2017, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will be the other star attraction of Saadiyat Island. The exterior, a design of world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, is a work of art in itself. Featuring giant cylindered entrances that jut out from each corner of the main building, Gehry describes the structure as “intentionally “˜messy’, moving into clarity” the deeper visitors move into the space. The pre-eminent platform is anticipated to become one of the most significant artistic centres across the Middle East, alongside the Lourve.

Cultural District Aerial view | Abu Dhabi - Art Capital of the Middle East

Artist impression of what the finished Guggenheim structure will look like © 


But among these juggernauts are also some impressive independent galleries that are transcending national and international perceptions of art in the region and delivering a much-needed platform for emerging artists. Among the forerunners is Eithad Modern Art Gallery. Situated in central Abu Dhabi, the gallery has led the way in showcasing moving exhibitions from celebrated artists based throughout the Arab world.

The Salwa Zeidan Gallery‘s move to the Saadiyat Island has helped to reassert its status as one of Abu Dhabi’s top contemporary galleries.  Located within the stunning St Regis resort, the gallery has attracted big names in the Emirati art world including prolific artists Alia Ali Al Farsi and Hussain Sharif.  Another early contributor to the Abu Dhabi art scene well that is worth visiting is the Ghaf Gallery, set up by renowned artist Jalal Luqman and art patron and entrepreneur Mohammed Kanoo. The gallery remains dedicated to supporting and promoting local artists on an international scale and is an important hub for creative arts in the area.

UAE Pavilion in the Saadiyat Cultural District | Abu Dhabi: Art Capital of the Middle East

The UAE Pavilion in Saadiyat Cultural District  © Abu Dhabi Arts Fair


A unifying element of the diverse and burgeoning Emirati arts landscape has been the formation of the annual Abu Dhabi Arts Fair. Bringing together top galleries and museums from across the region, the fair exhibits museum worthy artworks, large-scale installations and special curated exhibitions. Held in the UAE Pavilion and Manarat Al Saadiyat in the Saadiyat Cultural District, there are a number of workshops for all ages that visitors can take part in too.

Experiencing Abu Dhabi art has never been easier, and the vibrancy of this developing cultural awakening is sure to make the rest of the world take note.

Header image Alan64/iStock/Thinkstock 

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Have you experienced the Abu Dhabi art scene? Share some of your favourite galleries in the region in the comments section below.

Written by Chantelle Symester

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About Chantelle Symester

Chantelle Symester is a writer and editor based in London. When she’s not chained to her laptop working she can be found hopping on a plane to far flung places across the globe. Trips so far include adventures to Mexico, South America and North Africa and she now has her heart set on discovering the East. You can find her @csymester
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