Thomas Krens

Former Director of the Guggenheim Foundation Criticizes Plans for Abu Dhabi Branch

Thomas Krens, the former director of the Guggenheim Foundation in New York, has spoken out about the foundation’s controversial plans to build a museum in Abu Dhabi, saying it should be postponed or downsized, Cristina Ruiz reports in the Art Newspaper. Krens himself brokered the original 2006 deal to create a Guggenheim museum there, as discussed in the October 2015 issue of Artforum by Andrew Ross, who notes that the proposed institution and larger cultural complex around it was based on a napkin drawing by Krens.

He stated on the podcast “In Other Words,” produced by the art advisory firm Art Agency Partners, that the project to establish the cultural complex on Saadiyat Island with five new museums was conceived at a time when “people were far more naive” and that it “could never have happened” today. He added: “The world financial crisis and the Arab Spring has changed the equation radically . . . It may not be such a good idea these days to have an American museum . . . with a Jewish name in a country [that doesn’t recognize Israel] in such a prominent location, at such a big scale.”

Krens also cited security concerns from the start: “One of the biggest concerns was security, because we were right on the edge of the Persian Gulf, and so everybody’s imagination was [going to] water-borne terrorism—boatloads of explosives crashing into the museum and blowing it up.” The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi satellite was initially scheduled to open in 2012, but construction on the building has yet to begin. Of the four other museums planned for Saadiyat Island, only the Louvre Abu Dhabi, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, is near completion. Krens also suggested on the podcast that local authorities have delayed construction on the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi until after the opening of the Louvre outpost in order to gauge local reaction: “The Louvre will open next year. In my view that’s a political calculation that essentially is testing the waters.”