CultureGrrl

Tadao Ando: Dubious in Abu Dhabi


Tadao Ando’s first slide for Clark Art Institute lecture

I was in Williamstown, MA, last weekend for the Wall Street Journal, to cover the Clark Art Institute’s new Stone Hill Center, designed by Tadao Ando. I attended his pre-opening lecture—an hour-long illustrated tour of his various projects around the world. His first slide (above) related to his commission in Abu Dhabi for a Maritime Museum—one of four starchitect-designed cultural facilities planned for Saadiyat Island.

I can’t blog about Stone Hill until my WSJ piece appears. But I can tell you what Ando said about Abu Dhabi to an audience that included James Wood, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust (who, when he was director of the Art Institute of Chicago, had commissioned an Ando-designed Japanese art gallery); and Emily Rauh Pulitzer (whose Ando building for the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, St. Louis, received much critical acclaim).

Here’s what Ando had to say about Abu Dhabi:

For me it’s really a new mystery, because these [the people in the slide] are my audience and I don’t know how to relate to them….The date of the announcement [of the museum project] coincided with the day when the soccer team from Abu Dhabi was supposed to compete for the World Cup, which has become a big event. So our presentation became secondary. The leader [said that he] would like to move our presentation to another day and invited everyone to watch the soccer game.

Frank Gehry [architect for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi], …because he doesn’t like soccer, said, “I don’t want to watch soccer. I want to present!” We all went to watch the soccer match….Luckily, they won, one to zero, so everybody was…in a jolly mood. And it was announced that the next day would be a public holiday.

So that’s the kind of country Abu Dhabi is. With that kind of decision-making process, I’m not sure if it’s going to happen or not, but we’re moving on…When I was there last time, we tried to talk to the king and the leaders of the country to see if they would be able to build the four large buildings that they had commissioned.

And in other Abu Dhabi news:

—Anna Somers Cocks of the Art Newspaper acts like she’s got a scoop in reporting today on the financial details of the contract signed by the governments of Abu Dhabi and France regarding creation of the Jean Nouvel-designed Louvre Abu Dhabi (Revealed: Details of Contract between Abu Dhabi and France: The Art Newspaper Obtained a Copy). What am I missing? Cocks says that the agreement was “signed on 7 March 2008,” but CultureGrrl (here and here), Le Monde and the Financial Times reported the signing and gave the contract’s details a year earlier—in March 2007.

—Abu Dhabi also figured in the long piece by Robin Pogrebin in last Sunday’s NY TimesI’m the Designer. My Client’s the Autocrat. Pogrebin mentioned the concerns that have been raised about human rights abuses of migrant construction workers in the United Arab Emirates (which include Abu Dhabi). Then she quoted Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, saying this about the Abu Dhabi starchitects (who also include Zaha Hadid):

We’re urging them to take steps to make sure they or their contractors are complying with best practices. Typically their response is, “We comply with national laws,” and our response to that is, national laws don’t cut the mustard.