[Editor’s note: Today, September 29, the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi officially confirmed that the long-delayed, Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi would be officially opening in 2025. The article below from last week reflects comments from Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, speculating on a 2026 completion date.
“It is truly thrilling to see this project enter into this new phase,” said Gehry in the announcement. “I am immensely proud to work closely with our partners, DCT Abu Dhabi and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, to create a home for their ground-breaking cultural program. I hope that this building is embraced by the people of the UAE and that this work will endure as a landmark for the country for many years to come.”
“Today’s announcement represents a significant milestone in the realisation of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, a landmark new museum,” added Armstrong. “The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, housed in Frank Gehry’s distinctive building, will be home to an expansive and evolving collection of artworks that advance multiple perspectives on the global histories of modern and contemporary art, with a particular focus on art from West Asia, North Africa, and South Asia. Abu Dhabi is a vibrant and diverse cultural centre with a global outlook and rapidly growing creative economy, making it the ideal location for a new international museum. We are grateful to the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, our partners in this bold collaboration. It is with great enthusiasm that we look forward to sharing the museum’s collection, programming, and building with the public at the future Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.”]
On September 20 at a press conference in Basel, Switzerland, Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, announced that the Abu Dhabi satellite museum is scheduled to open in 2026. At 320,000 square feet, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will be the largest of the Guggenheim outposts and will rise on Saadiyat Island, a ground-up cultural district run by the state-owned Tourism Development & Investment Company that also plays host to other cultural institutions like Jean Nouvel’s Louvre Abu Dhabi.
Of course, any regular reader of AN will know that this isn’t the first time Armstrong has claimed that work was proceeding as scheduled and that ground would soon be broken. In a 2019 interview with Euronews at Abu Dhabi’s annual Culture Summit, he said that the project was on track to break ground and that the museum could open its doors in 2022 or 2023. Despite numerous media outlets trumpeting that work was finally set to begin, obviously that didn’t happen; this time the delay was partially caused by the global coronavirus pandemic. Last year the Guggenheim, confronted with a major cash shortfall after worldwide museum attendance plummeted, was forced to slash exhibitions and furlough employees, and a global construction slowdown over transmission fears didn’t help either.
In Basel, Armstrong reiterated the museum’s commitment to fulfilling Gehry’s vision. Initial plans to open in 2012 were stymied by the worldwide recession at the tail-end of the Bush years, and in 2017, Armstrong’s predecessor Thomas Krens said that the project might never be realized given the new economic paradigm and over fears that the museum could become a target for terrorists. Yesterday, however, Armstrong said that the completed museum will be Gehry’s “big, late masterpiece,” even after the size of the building was cut back from the originally planned 450,000 square feet.
Still, the delay hasn’t come without some benefit. The Guggenheim has spent the last 12 years building its acquisitions and has already built up a collection of more than 600 pieces of post-1965 artworks with a global focus. Armstrong said that some of the pieces that will go up in the new museum are of a “heroic” scale, befitting the new building’s grand size. Will the long-delayed Emirati museum finally break ground soon after a string of similar proclamations?