Richard Mille Art Prize shines a spotlight on the Gulf’s burgeoning art scene
March 15, 2023
A film about self-taught artist Nellie Mae Rowe shows the limitations of the artist documentary genre
March 15, 2023

Louvre Abu Dhabi

Opened with fanfare in 2017, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is the first world museum sited in the Arab world. Its universal narrative of the development of art has resulted in a much broader representation of cultures than is normally found in European or American institutions. Under its director Manuel Rabaté, the Louvre has skilfully navigated between its Arab home and its French partnerships, which has meant a series of high-value works such as Degas’s The Bellelli Family and da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronnière coming to Saadiyat Island. The introduction of the Richard Mille Art Prize in 2021, which awards the UAE’s only major art prize to contemporary artists from the region, has further cemented the Louvre’s connections to the local community.

Saadiyat Island,

The Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi is the dedicated home of local arts and culture, putting on exhibitions, workshops and children’s events

Cultural Foundation

Abu Dhabi’s Cultural Foundation is the most historically significant arts institution in the capital. It was opened by Sheikh Zayed, the founding father of the country, in 1981, and served for two decades as the open and amorphous home of all types of cultural events, putting on everything from exhibitions and screenings to book fairs and children’s piano and ballet recitals. Located near the Corniche in the heart of the old city, it serves an important social function for Abu Dhabi’s different demographics.

After it closed in 2009, rumours spread that it was slated for demolition, but it was saved due to interventions by key cultural figures. Reopening after significant renovation in 2018, it had new and remodelled galleries, studio spaces, a library and a theatre. Under the direction of Reem Fadda at the Department of Culture and Tourism, it has become an important site for the performing arts from the wider Arab region. It also puts on modern shows, such as retrospectives of local filmmaker and photographer Farah Al Qasimi and the important Modernist Moroccan painter Mohamed Melehi.

Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum Street,

The NYUAD Art Gallery was opened in partnership with New York University and has a remit of scholarship and arts programming

NYUAD Art Gallery

As a gallery attached to New York University’s Saadiyat Island campus, NYUAD Art Gallery has carried forward the institution’s remit of scholarship and serious programming. Led by its founding director Maya Allison, it has pursued historical shows, such as a survey of the UAE’s “pioneering generation”, the artists who coalesced around Hassan Sharif in the 1990s and 2000s, and a broader view of art in the Gulf states from the early 20th century to the present.

NYU Abu Dhabi campus on Saadiyat Island,

Abu Dhabi’s Engage101 puts on exhibitions by young artists in unique spaces


The roving platform of Engage101 began as a way to reconsider how young artists travelled through the existing gallery system in the UAE. Led by Gulf arts researcher Gaith Abdulla, Engage101 presents quarterly exhibitions of young artists in different spaces across the UAE, from the Dubai arts centre Alserkal Avenue to the studio of Afra Al Dhaheri (one of the shortlisted artists) in the industrial area of Mussafah on Abu Dhabi’s outskirts. Prices are deliberately kept affordable in order to move art out of the luxury sector and into the wider community. Engage101 also commissions and hosts critical writing on its website, with a particular focus on the postcolonial landscape of the Gulf. It also, with partners such as Aisha Alabbar Gallery and Bayt Al Mamzar in Dubai, conducts original research on the UAE arts ecosystem.

Multi-purpose space Manarat Al Saadiyat sits amid what will become one of the cultural centres of the still-developing Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi

Manarat Al Saadiyat

The low-slung, cavernous Manarat Al Saadiyat is a bit like that friend who dresses in an entirely different style at every party: who is she, really? A few years after the Cultural Foundation closed temporarily, Manarat Al Saadiyat assumed the role of a multi-purpose art space for the city and remains the venue for many of its top art events, including the November fair Abu Dhabi Art. Run by the city’s Department of Culture and Tourism, it hosts pop-up exhibitions throughout the year.

Saadiyat Island,

Located in the Zayed Port area of Abu Dhabi, 421 was founded in 2015 inside a renovated warehouse


Though 421 was only five years old at the start of the pandemic, the public gallery’s curatorial team took the opportunity to analyse their identity and methodology—they ended up reinventing themselves as an ambitious, experimental gallery devoted to process. The majority of the shows now come out of programmes such as mentorships and workshops, which place as much emphasis on development tasks as on the final exhibition. Led by director Faisal Al Hassan, the result has been a series of strong group and solo shows that feel especially relevant to the UAE community. An exhibition on food resources – a common topic these days in contemporary art – yielded revelations on labour and identity among Emirati, Arab and South Asian UAE-based artists, while in 2021 a show about feminism by Abu Dhabi’s Banat Collective sited the discourse specifically in the Gulf.

Zayed Port,

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