Oil-Rich Abu Dhabi Hosts First Picasso Exhibition in the Arab World

emiratesMajor works by Pablo Picasso are now on view for the first time in the Arab world. The retrospective, “Picasso Abu Dhabi: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris”, will be at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi from May 27 to September 4, 2008. It is the only Middle Eastern venue on the show’s 9-city tour.

The exhibition was originally curated by Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, where it went on display in February with 400 of the artist’s works. Abu Dhabi’s version has only 186, but includes a special exhibition of “40 drawings, prints and illuminated manuscripts reminiscent of the Arab influences Picasso absorbed during his youth in Málaga, La Cocina and Barcelona.” It was curated by Anne Baldassari of the Musée National Picasso (who I suppose knows why more than 50% of the original group is NOT on view in the emirates’ capital.)

While major U.S. news sites have done little more than run a generic AP article about the opening, this represents a significant public relations move for the UAE and the Middle East in general, and for Abu Dhabi in particular. The richest of the seven emirates, oil-rich Abu Dhabi is rapidly transforming itself into a sophisticated cross-cultural destination (unlike its flashier neighbor, Dubai). Already, it is the future site of a Guggenheim, a Louvre, a New York University campus, as well as a performing arts center, maritime museum and a national museum named after Sheikh Zayed, the main driving force behind the UAE’s formation.

Remarkable growth for a nation that paved its first road in 1961. As Americans face a summer (or more) of skyrocketing gas prices, art openings like this hint at who’s at the other end of the pump. Culture flows in the direction of capital.

Photo: Emirates Palace at dusk, by Jake Brewer on flickr
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