Stephanie Rosenthal appointed project director for Guggenheim Abu Dhabi museum

The Guggenheim’s long-awaited Abu Dhabi museum has announced a new project director. Stephanie Rosenthal will oversee the final stages of the construction of the United Arab Emirates’s museum—nearly 20 years after plans were first unveiled, and 14 years after building work first began.

Rosenthal has worked as the director of Gropius Bau in Berlin, Germany, since 2018 after spending the previous ten years as the chief curator at the Hayward Gallery in London. She will officially begin her new role in the Middle East in September, and will jointly direct the Frank Gehry-designed institution in the lead up to its opening, which is currently slated for 2025.

In a statement to The Art Newspaper, Rosenthal pledged to make the museum “one of the most progressive institutions of the 21st century.”

The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is being built on Saadiyat Island, along with many other cultural institutions including the Louvre Abu Dhabi Courtesy of Courtesy TDIC and Gehry Partners, LLP

But Rosenthal will have to deal with a UAE in a state of political and societal flux brought about by the death of the Emir of Abu Dhabi and the UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, at the age of 73. Sheikh Khalifa served as the UAE president since 2004 and, with his brother Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, has driven the country’s significant investment in culture and heritage. The Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, an arm of his government, are centrally involved in the construction of the museum, which has been blighted by delays throughout its construction.

Rosenthal will head the project’s leadership team, working with her counterpart Maisa Al Qassimi, who is the Acting Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Project Director and was appointed by the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi.

Rosenthal will also be tasked with conserving and developing the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi’s international collection, which aims to create “a new understanding of art histories,” the museum says in a statement. The collection will be focused primarily on works from West Asia, North Africa and South Asia.

A constellation of Guggenheim directors (from left): Juan Ignacio Vidarte, the director of the Guggenheim Bilbao; Karole Vail, the director of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice; Maisa Al Qassimi, the acting Guggenheim Abu Dhabi project director; and Richard Armstrong, the director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation in New York

Rosenthal adds: “Heading an institution in what has been called the centre of the world is an unmissable opportunity to foreground new and developing perspectives on art and society. To continue to build a collection centered in this region is one of the most exciting responsibilities I can imagine. Together with Maisa Al Qassimi and an exceptional team of local and international colleagues, we will deliver one of the most progressive institutions of the 21st century. My goal is to create an inclusive institution which is truly rooted in the region, and can grow into one of the most important institutions worldwide.”

A cultural destination

Once completed, the Abu Dhabi outpost will cover 42,000 sq. m, making it the largest of the four Guggenheim outposts, overtaking the monumental Guggenheim Bilbao, which was also designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning, Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry and first opened in 1997.

The Abu Dhabi museum is being built on Saadiyat Island, a new cultural district off the emirate’s coast. Once complete, it will surely be one of the most significant museum and architecture districts in the world. The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will share the island with Louvre Abu Dhabi, built by the French architect Jean Nouvel—the first time the Musée du Louvre has created an institution outside of France.

The Zayed National Museum, a design by the British architectural firm Foster + Partners, is also under construction there, as is a new arts centre by Zaha Hadid Architects. The Abrahamic Family House, an interfaith complex comprising of a synagogue, mosque and church, all designed by Adjaye Associates, will stand close by.

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