"Come to Abu Dhabi," they said. "Come to Abu Dhabi and write about art." "Is there any?" I asked. Of course, in my parochial, north-London way I thought I was being clever. But more fool me, there's tonnes of the stuff, and I've been in a blissful daze ever since I touched down last week. Here's what I'm looking forward to this week.
In a packed week, the highlight is the second artparis-Abu Dhabi, which will be held at the Emirates Palace and open to the public from Monday Nov 18 to Friday Nov 21.
Building on the success of last years outing, this contemporary art fair now boasts participation by 58 galleries from around the world. Along with stars from all over the Gulf and beyond, there will be work from monumental western figures: Picasso, Warhol, Chagall. Fans of Joan Miró are especially well-served. No fewer than four galleries are showing the Catalan painters playful compositions.
A couple of pieces by Warhols hooligan pretender, Damien Hirst, will also get a look in. The art industry's most formidable entity as determined by the ArtReview Power 100 this month, Hirst has had an astonishing year and a half. Depending on who you listen to he broke the record for the most expensive contemporary art work either two or three times. He also terrified galleries everywhere by cutting out the middleman and selling directly to auction, where he managed to rake in another record sum, this time for a single-artist show. In light of all this, Hamburg Kennedy have brought off a coup in showing what must surely be Hirst's quintessential work, at least insofar as his essence is a sort of dead-eyed, fraudulent vulgarity.
For the Love of God, Laugh isn't even the jewel-encrusted skull itself, but a silk-screen photo of it, sprinkled with diamond dust. It may resemble a piece of Destroyer-era Kiss memorabilia but don't let that put you off. Looks never count for much with Hirst. Just bask in the hollowness and the price.
The Abu Dhabi Jazz Festival is to return after a three-year hiatus, taking over the Beach Rotana from Thursday Nov 20 to Saturday Nov 22. As is often the way, "jazz festival" is a bit of a misnomer: if anything the line-up skews towards Scandinavian blues rock, with a helping of Arabic fusion on the side. Still, who cares what they call it: the Lebanese artist Guy Manoukian brings a dubby jazz slant to traditional Armenian songs and the excellent scat singer Anita Wardell will be there for the purists.
A further trio of musicians, each iconic in their own way, hits town this week. On Friday Nov 21, as part of the Abu Dhabi Classics season, Abdullah Ibrahim, the artist formerly known as Dollar Brand, will be dazzling the Emirates Palace terrace with a selection from his storied catalogue. Ibrahim played on South Africas first black jazz record, Jazz Epistle, Verse 1, as well as on one of its best: Mannenberg. And as if that isn't recommendation enough, he was also a protege of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk and is the father of the astonishing rapper Jean Grae. Thats about as good as musical pedigrees get. Nominally a jazz pianist, Ibrahim restricts himself neither to the style nor the instrument. Expect to hear a blend of bebop, African, Islamic and classical influences, always melodic but veering at times into something like tone poetry.
The following night, Cecilia Bartoli will be in the Emirates Palace auditorium to perform a selection from Rossini, Bellini and other notables in the bel canto tradition. Bartoli is probably the most spectacular coloratura mezzo-soprano on the planet at the moment who else could score a hit by releasing a disc of Glucks lesser known arias? So the programme suggests an excellent setting for her acrobatic voice. The Basel Chamber Orchestra will be accompanying: one only hopes they can keep up.
And if your hunger for camp isn't to be satisfied by a virtuoso tour of the highlights of Italian romanticism, theres only one thing for it: Kylie Minogue. The Australian singer will be performing at the opening of the Atlantis Hotel on Palm Jumeirah on Nov Thursday 20. Its invitation-only, Im afraid, but if you're lucky enough to be on the guest list you'll be able to tell us what the pop princess sounds like on a reported hourly rate of Dh16 million. This, I believe, is another industry record. Read it and weep, Damien Hirst.