x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 November 2017

Abu Dhabi’s busiest month of art will have lasting impact

While We Wait at Alserkal Avenue in Dubai; Abu Dhabi Art; Louvre Abu Dhabi; and events at NYUAD have all arrived at the same time in a week

The opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi presents a different side of the capital’s burgeoning art scene. Chris Whiteoak / The National
The opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi presents a different side of the capital’s burgeoning art scene. Chris Whiteoak / The National

As is always the way with journalism, as soon as the current article is completed, the next one immediately comes into view.

While We Wait at Alserkal Avenue in Dubai; Abu Dhabi Art; Louvre Abu Dhabi; and events at NYUAD have all arrived at the same time in a week defined as much for me by relentless sleeplessness as it has been by architecture and art.

Racing to file my last article about Louvre Abu Dhabi on Wednesday afternoon, I realised that I had just 20 minutes to make it to Mina Zayed and the press preview of yet another new exhibition, Warehouse421’s design-and-manufacturing-focused offering In the Making.

In the Making is a new exhibition at Warehouse 421 in Mina Zayed. Christopher Pike / The National
In the Making is a new exhibition at Warehouse 421 in Mina Zayed. Christopher Pike / The National

Somehow I managed to complete the 20-kilometre taxi journey from The National’s offices to the warehouse in time – God bless you, Godfrey Massa. I entered just as the introductions began and was immediately struck by the contrast between the light, white, Francophone world that I had been inhabiting on Saadiyat Island in recent days and the darker, browner and far more Anglo-Saxon realm I now found myself in.

It may have just been a matter of delirious fatigue, but as one of the show’s curators, Jay Osgerby, explains, the thinking behind the new exhibition – a show of incomplete industrial objects arrested at various stages of their development – what started as a press conference soon morphed into a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

He is one half of Barber & Osgerby, an award-winning industrial design practice who designed the Olympic torch for London 2012 and a commemorative £2 coin for Britain’s Royal Mint, and have also worked with design giants such as Stella McCartney, Hermes, Vitra and Cappellini. Osgerby studied at my local art college in London and old alma mater, the Royal College of Art.

Barber & Osgerby’s Shoreditch studio is in walking distance of my old London home. Their architectural and interiors business, Universal Design Studio, not only designed In The Making, but were also responsible for the interior of the very British restaurant Canteen, my favourite spot for an Arbroath smokie whenever I am in London.

Osgerby’s talk of the beauty that can be found in materials and making things rather than in simply consuming them with the click of a mouse points to the connection between the two worlds I have been inhabiting of late.

A deeply unfashionable concept and aspiration for some time now, especially in the realm of contemporary art, the allure of beauty is evident in the objects that are on display at In the Making – a glass marble, a French horn, a whistle and a light bulb – and in the experience of visiting Louvre Abu Dhabi, a building with finishes and materials that have also been chosen with the utmost care.

While there is an undoubted frisson in seeing the artistic masterpieces output of human history, there is also a profoundly tangible delight in feeling the sepulchral coolness of limestone, of seeing the neon reflection of seawater transform the underside of a dome or in appreciating the sound and curves of timber turned to music in the hands of a master instrument maker.

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Read more from Nick:

Examining the past should be an uncomfortable experience

This time of year is one for celebration

Abu Dhabi’s 8th Street is a perfect example of informal urbanism

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So just as the founders of Louvre Abu Dhabi’s 19th-century antecedents realised – institutions such as the National Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London – their influence will be felt in artist’s studios and galleries, workshops, fabrication plants and manufacturing techniques.

It is this aspiration – to use culture as a means not just of delight and enlightenment, but as a vehicle for transforming an economy – that places the events of the past week in a very different context.

Make no mistake, what we are seeing is a conscious act of nation-building with an influence that, if it succeeds, will be felt just as much in the warehouses of Mina Zayed and Mussaffah as it will in the showrooms of Yas and Saadiyat islands.