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Guggenheim director on time frame for Abu Dhabi museum and latest Saadiyat exhibition

Although nine years have passed since the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum and Foundation announced they would be building the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island and construction has not yet started, the head of the foundation has confirmed the museum is very much a reality.

Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum and Foundation said: “There is progress, we are moving forward towards building it and having a museum.” He went on to put the time frame of the new museum into perspective by telling the story of the original museum in New York.

In June of 1943, Frank Lloyd Wright received a letter from Hilla Rebay, the art adviser to Solomon R Guggenheim, asking him to design a new building to house their artwork.

“She asked him to build a temple for the spirit and it took 16 years to build,” he said. “So, don’t be so concerned that things have not moved at a certain kind of pace. Reality intervenes, in terms of instability in political events and even the economy but our hands are joined together in combined ambition to build a great museum.”

Armstrong is in the capital this week for the opening of the second exhibition of the permanent collection of the forthcoming museum — The Creative Act: Performance, Process, Presence. It brings together more than 20 artists of different nationalities and generations who have emphasised performance, process, and human presence in their practice.

“A lot of the works are based on different ideas of gesture,” explains Armstrong. “It is a good sampling of the quality of the growing collection.”

The exhibition is presented in three sections with the first exploring novel approaches to painting realised through physical actions and the use of everyday materials.

Included in this are paintings by French artist Niki de Saint Phalle, who shot bags of paint upon canvases and Japanese artist Shiraga Kazuo, who belonged to the Gutai group of avant-garde artists and painted with his feet.

The second section examines conceptual art practices in the UAE since the 1980s. The artists in this section are Ebtisam Abdulaziz, Tarek Al-Ghoussein, Mohammed Kazem, and Hassan Sharif.

There are some wonderful performances documented in old photographs and sketches by Sharif, which really put into context the importance of his practice.

The third chapter brings together a series of installations made since 2000 by Susan Hefuna, Anish Kapoor, Anri Sala, and Dubai-based trio Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, and Hesam Rahmanian.

Kapoor’s My Red Homeland is the most imposing of the pieces; it is a 12-metre sculpture made of red wax being pushed around by a giant steel arm.

“I am impressed with the way the team are presenting Anish Kapoor’s piece,” said Armstrong. “It is a very contemplative piece so it will allow people to stop literally and possibly inside their own heads. It is a bit of a deep dive for the ordinary person, but there is plenty of oxygen so I am not worried.”

Armstrong concludes by saying that since the start of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi as a forthcoming institution and collection, the entire foundation has become more global.

“In New York, we have been saying rhetorically that we are a global institution but until we began Guggenheim Abu Dhabi that wasn’t true,” he said. “It is from the research that we have done with the team here and looking around from the point of view of trying to make a collection truly representative of our world that we realised how little we knew about our world. We are not there yet but we are much more defensibly global than we were nine years ago when this started.”

• The Creative Act: Performance, Process, Presence runs until July 29, in Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi

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