The Financial Times’s Peter Aspden went to the Gulf States to tour the new museums being built. Though he expresses some skepticism about the Emirates and the local population’s interest in art, he discovers that the project most rooted in the region may turn out to be the best of all the many museums being built:
The Emirates were founded as a federation under the leadership of Sheikh Zayed in 1971, and it is the museum bearing his name on Saadiyat Island that is in many ways the most interesting project of them all. The Zayed National Museum’s spectacular fan-shaped design by Norman Foster, referencing the feathers of a falcon’s wing in homage to a favourite local pastime, was unveiled during the Queen’s visit to Abu Dhabi last November. Here is where the Emirati capital will display and explore its own identity through its history and traditions. There is more western support for this project, in the form of a consultancy role for the British Museum. Under its charismatic director Neil MacGregor, the BM has been developing bilateral links and organising loans with foreign museums.
Justin Morris, the BM’s head of strategic planning, said the link with the Zayed was strongly encouraged by the British government. “Although we are at arm’s length from the government, it has a significant role to play in developing such relationships – and it was very proactive in this case,” he tells me in his office in Bloomsbury. He says the last thing on either country’s mind was to establish a form of “outpost” in Abu Dhabi. “But we wanted to offer our services, they wanted an internationally credible museum.” He declines to disclose the fee for the museum’s services.
State of the Art (Financial Times)