When oil and paint mix…

Having already pumped oil riches into golf courses and hotels, Abu Dhabi is now building space-age monuments to culture while Dubai is eyeing the Western art market. Our critic flew to the first Dubai international art fair and found Arab gold and Western irony intriguingly at odds.

Peter Conrad in The Observer:

Dancingtowers5bzA while ago, lolling on a beach beside the Persian Gulf, the Mayfair gallery-owner John Martin experienced a revelation. ‘What Dubai needs,’ he declared to his fellow sunbathers, ‘is an international art fair.’ I’d say there were other things Dubai needed first: roads perhaps, or traffic regulations for its marauding jeeps. Even a bookshop might be a good idea. But this week Dubai – best known for its golf courses, its opulent hotels and its lack of taxes – acquired an art fair, which, a little presumptuously, is intended to establish this sand-blown outpost as ‘the most important centre in Asia, likely to rival London and New York within a decade’.

Dubai’s neighbour, Abu Dhabi, has more oil, which it is shrewdly trading for culture. An island off the coast is to house a tumbling pile of boxes that will be Frank Gehry’s latest Guggenheim, a pinioned performance centre by Zaha Hadid, a mollusc-shaped Maritime Museum by Tadao Ando, and a hovering disc by Jean Nouvel filled with loans from the Louvre. President Chirac charged Abu Dhabi $1 billion for access to the Louvre brand; the United Arab Emirates further ingratiated by spending $10bn on French armaments. French critics complain that the nation’s heritage is being bartered for petrodollars. What antiquated idealism! We used to think that art enshrined values that were universal. Now all we ask is that it should be global, as instantly convertible as all other currencies.

More here.  [Illustration shows Zaha Hadid’s design for “Dancing Towers” in Dubai.]