Battle of the Museums
Architecture has always been a way to impress, a way of expressing greatness. Rulers used it in the past - and they continue to do so today. Nowadays, museums have become the new cultural prestige objects; the challenge of producing the world's best, biggest and most beautiful art venue has taken on a new dimension - especially in the United Arab Emirates.
Like Florence during the Renaissance, the wealthy Gulf States today are investing in art and imposing buildings with no heed to the cost. Today it is no longer about castles, cathedrals, mosques or skyscrapers. The new prestige objects are museums: the opening in November 2017 of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, built by French star architect Jean Nouvel, marked a high point in the contest. Another spectacular museum, also designed by Nouvel, is due to open in neighboring Qatar at the end of 2018. The woman responsible for the culture boom in Doha is Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad Khalifa al Thani, a sister of the ruling Emir of Qatar. She is viewed by some as the most powerful figure on the international art scene. Every year, she invests hundreds of millions of Euros in new museums, in artworks for Qatar's collections and in promoting the local art scene. But Abu Dhabi has also been planning new museums too, including a Guggenheim museum designed by Frank Gehry and a National Museum by Norman Foster. It remains to be seen whether these projects will ever be realized. Construction has yet to begin on the buildings although they have been planned for years. Making the contest for great art venues all the more explosive is that fact that Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are currently experiencing a diplomatic crisis, with mutual accusations of support for terrorism. Relations between Qatar and its neighbors were severed in the summer of 2017. The great art patrons in the Gulf may be building bridges to the world with their museums, but they are no longer talking to each other.