Change of Art

4 Emerging Markets Museums

Move over old masters, it’s time to make way for some new kids on the global art scene. Here are four art galleries opening to the public this year.

On the surface, the latest cultural offerings from the UAE, South Africa, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia appear to be merely spicing up the menu for culture vultures across the globe.

But we shouldn’t underestimate the impact new museums can have: for bringing in hard cash, people power, and cultural capital. As we will see, each of these latest endeavors contributes to countries’ economic growth through tourism, knowledge building at home, and marketing and diplomacy abroad.

Abu Dhabi Louvre

In keeping with its general propensity to wow, the United Arab Emirates has come up trumps with its most recent venture: a first-of-its-kind collaboration between the Paris Louvre and the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture & Tourism (DTC). All 8,000sqm of gallery space is dedicated to showcasing the crí¨me de la crí¨me of global civilization’s creative output, from ancient crafts to some of the world’s most iconic paintings.

Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, the building itself is a showstopper of momentous proportions, with its distinctive roof of hundreds of geometric stars. A 30-year agreement sees Agence France-Muséums looking after the logistics: curation, signage, program development, and loans from more than 17 European galleries, including the original Louvre, the Musée D’Orsay, and the Centre Pompidou.

So far this has proved to be a match made in art heaven. And yet, to assume the pairing is just a case of France providing the creative heavyweight and Abu Dhabi providing the financial muscle is to fail to do justice to the wealth—past and present—of Arab art, hidden jewels amid a star-studded line-up.

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (South Africa)

Despite rather patronizingly being labelled “Africa’s Tate Modern,” the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) can stand on its own two feet in terms of artistic prowess. Four years in the making, the USD38 million museum, which opened late last year, is the largest contemporary art gallery in Africa, and has been dubbed the continent’s most significant cultural project in over 100 years.

A joint effort between South African art collector Jochen Zeitz and the V&A waterfront, the museum is housed in a converted grain silo factory in Cape Town, and contains six art centers, and 12 exhibitions spaces spread over nine floors.

Displayed throughout are examples of 21st century painting, sculpture, film, performance, and photography from over 17 African and diaspora countries. With a double objective—to take Africa’s art to the world, and to bring the world’s art to Africans—Zeitz Mocaa embodies an artistic ideal of accessibility and alternativeness.

In its first month it recorded 70,073 visitors, around half of whom entered for free thanks to special offers for under-18s and African citizens at certain times during the week. Its latest series, “alternate voices,” challenges how Africa is often underrepresented in narratives of contemporary culture and artistic expression.

Macan Indonesia

Opening in the middle of the creative cyclone caused by the Jakarta Biennale and the Biennale Jogja, Macan Indonesia, the first ever Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in the country, has been tearing up the Indonesian art scene beyond recognition. It is appropriate then, that the 4,000sqm facility, housing over 800 works from the collection of Haryanto Asikoesoemo, takes its name from the Bahasa word for “tiger.”

Asikoesoemo, a prominent Indonesian property developer, has been picking out his artifacts for over half a century, and the result is a mixed bag of Indonesian and international masterpieces. The collection highlights just how globalization has changed the face of contemporary art—in particular by exposing emerging markets to the opportunities and challenges of establishing their own legacies in artistic languages traditionally dominated by western traditions.

In addition, the museum directors have highlighted the fact that Macan will fuel sustainability in the Indonesian art industry, with the launching of education programs and provision of funding earmarked for human resources and community outreach development.

King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Saudi Arabia)

Though not yet open, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, locally known as Ithra, cannot go unmentioned here, owing to the sheer scope of its aesthetic and pedagogical ambitions. Funded by Saudi Aramco, the mammoth culture hub situated in the city of Dhahran will contain an auditorium, cinema, library, exhibition hall, museum and archive.

Four main art galleries are to focus on contemporary Saudi Arabian and Middle Eastern Art, as well as Islamic design and heritage. The “Knowledge Tower” will house a library of some 200,000 books, and host an average of 2,000 conferences per year.

The archive will chart Aramco’s historic commitment to socio-cultural development in the country. After the Crown Prince’s recent purchase of Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi, in the most expensive art auction in history, the world needs no further assurance of Saudi Arabia’s dedication to the world of art.

However, if you were looking for more, this would be it: even before its completion — apparently Ithra is now in a “soft opening phase” and will be open to the public by mid-2018 — the facility is being described as a cultural powerhouse, and is a perfectly timed flourish in Saudi’s symphony of softening state control.

With this century bringing in radical reorganizations of the global trade map, it is only logical that we are seeing complementary shifts in centers of soft power.

These four museums could well be seen as a testament to this, and are encouraging commentators to ponder what we might miss if we continue to buy into exclusively hegemonic, “western” exhibitions of human creativity.

On a less cynical note, new and alternative cultural centers point us back to one of art’s underlying principles: the universal nature of experience.