The hangover Guggenheim: Abu Dhabi or art as resistance. By: Gonzalo Carrasco Purull.
Gehry has done it again. And this time big.
The Guggenheim Foundation in spite of the failures that has meant the closure of some of its galleries, will load again, this time with the architect who launched the so-called «Guggenheim effect», as is Frank Gehry.
And while much of the world still suffers the consequences of the economic crisis of October 2008, nothing seems to change in the practices of architects members of the exclusive group known as «star-system.» If the Chinese Olympics were an excuse at the time to attract some of these architects to Asia, the exorbitant profits from financial speculation led to as many eyes direct to Dubai. That is until the aforementioned crisis brought down the markets, leaving many of the projects started and stopped in the middle of the desert sand. That’s when other emerging markets appeared as an oasis for firms accustomed to large projects and unlimited budgets. Thus the first Abu Dhabi and Hanoi recently have begun to appear in the busy schedules of the architects of the star-system. This is the case of the project to the Cultural District of Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi.
Everything seems promising in this project from its name, which in Arabic means «Island of Happiness». Designed in 2004 by the ADTA (Abu Dhabi Tourist Authority), Abu Dhabi looking to make a city «world class.» For this the creation of a cultural center in Abu Dhabi placed within the show circuit was a fundamental requirement.
The formalization of this objective was conducted by Americans Gensler Associates and training company (TDIC – Tourist Development Investment Company) specially dedicated to the development of the project. Designed to be completed by the year 2018, Saadiyat expected to house a population of 150,000 inhabitants, who enjoy a very complete resort across six districts. Which will offer 29 hotels, 3 marinas, a center for arts and culture, two golf courses, with 19 kilometers of beach.
To achieve this, is that the authorities in charge of the project signed an agreement with the Guggenheim Foundation in July 2006, responsible for collecting a sample placed emphasis on the highlights of the contemporary art scene in the Middle East. Moreover, the masterplan was completed in January 2007, being featured in a special exhibition held at the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi, between January 31 to April 30, 2007.
A project by a constellation of architects was brought in from all over the world. While designing the Guggenheim Museum was directed by Frank Gehry, Performing Arts Center was by Zaha Hadid, the Maritime Museum by Tadao Ando, the Sheikh Zayed National Museum by the Office of Foster + Partners, and in fact unprecedented for the Louvre, its first branch outside France by Jean Nouvel.
Along with them, adds a number of other smaller projects surface, but that did not involve a detriment when calling stars. This is the case of the Biennale Park, consisting of 19 halls, made by architects like David Adjaye, Asymptote, Greg Lynn and Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.
While the project with Zaha Hadid Square 52,381 meters appears to be the largest building, the Gehry project stands out as all the museums built by the Guggenheim Foundation, the largest. With its 30,000 square meters, seems to establish itself as the culmination of that movement of art-show started in Bilbao in the nineties called «Bilbao effect.» However, here in Abu Dhabi is where the «effect» seems to have become a real «hangover.»
This is because the 9,474 meters square for display seems to run the risk of being left empty. Following the recent boycott launched by a group of 130 artists, who deny that their works are displayed in the Gehry building, putting at risk an investment of nearly $ 800 million. This is due to repeated reports by the Human Rights Watch, who since 2009 have denounced the terrible working conditions they are subjected to the workers involved in construction projects for Saadiyat.
According to these reports, the workers must pay very high sums intermediaries work, making final salary is intended to pay for the right to work. Deficit conditions in safety, and housing are just some of the features that construction work on Saadiyat. Passports held by employers, together with the non-payment of overtime, Saadiyat seem to make something closer to a nightmare than an «island of happiness.»
As in the works of the China Olympic architecture of the «star-system» is taken to the dock. Waste, extravagance, exuberance of its forms seems to be many times the curtain behind which some governments seem to hide continuing inequities. But this time a group of artists returned to art its property of resistance seemed to be lost amid the spectacle of the culture of contemporary museums. Resistance that has returned for a moment the dignity of a discipline that is capable of putting the institutions uncomfortable. A dignity that builds that view through which nudity is evident under the emperor’s new clothes.VKPK.