Richard challenged me to come up with an approach for a show in Abu Dhabi that would celebrate the UAE’s $31billion development of three iconic museums, Sheik Zayed National Museum, the world’s largest Guggenheim, and the first Louvre museum outside of France. Saadiyat Island was also to have a Maritime Museum and a Performing Arts Centre.
I found that in the wider region, the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) had additional plans. Qatar was expanding its National Museum, the National Museum of Oman was to be constructed, Kuwait was rebuilding its National Museum. While the UAE had plans for a Museum of Bedouin Culture in Abu Dhabi and a Dubai Museum of Middle East Modern Art.
Working through Richard’s Turrett Middle East Ltd we formulated plans for the Future Museums Congress, a conference and exhibition looking at everything from museum planning, conservation, curation, interpretation, displays, education and museum services.
It was perhaps the most fruitful and interesting launch show in which I had ever been involved. We attracted many iconic museums – the Ashmolean, Natural History Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum in the UK; Universcience from France; the Galleria Borghese from Italy; the Kunsthalle in Vienna, the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, State Tretyakov Gallery and others from Moscow and the State Hermitage Museum from St Petersburg of Russia; the Smithsonian , the American Museum of Natural History and LIberty Science Center from the USA; Ithra from Saudi Arabia’ Suzanne Mubarak Children’s Museum of Egypt; Qatar Museums Authority, the National Museum in Afghanistan… We had the Nepalese coming, the guy in charge of the Terracotta Warriors too, the Russians were bringing Fabergé eggs in the hope that locals might be interested in buying them.
I was personally shown around the Guggenheim in Bilbao by the Museum Director, and foresaw many years of such personal experiences deriving from this event.
Sadly, the UAE ran into delays on their three museums and reacted by deciding we should not proceed, presumably fearing an embarrassment.
We fought for the show to have an independent existence which would benefit the UAE, but they would not relent. We had to return deposits and lose all the expenses of the sales and marketing. It was so sad – and finally confirmed my decision to retire!