I am partial to large square white buildings. They whisper high design to me. They feel modern and hip and I feel hip when I am in them. So I felt immediately drawn to Jameel Arts Center, which is a series of large square white buildings stacked neatly and squarely on the banks of Dubai Creek. Jameel Arts Center fills a gap in Dubai. The Louvre Abu Dhabi is exceptional but is far away, Alkersal Avenue is a collection of fun galleries, but has no curated collective art space, and there is no “Dubai Art Museum” as such. While you will not find classic works of art at Jameel Arts Center, or art from old or even modern masters, there is plenty of intriguing curated design.
Jimmy and I visited one Saturday afternoon. The building is in the Dubai Harbour, on the Jadif Waterfront. If you follow my blog, you know that I have made it my quest to know Dubai, to see as much of it as possible, and I thought that I had knowledge of all areas of town. But this is an area that was new to me. Dubai is constantly building, growing, and changing – so much so that it is hard to keep up. But we found the Harbour, found the Center, and settled in for an informative visual delight of an afternoon. The building itself is stunning and the grounds include a sculpture walk, outdoor performance and resting spaces, and a well stocked research library where I could (and hope to) spend hours.
The theme for the first set of exhibits is titled “Crude” as in crude oil, and explores many themes relating to petroleum, and highlights works by Middle Eastern artists as well as others from around the world. There is a huge Alexander Calder like mobile that has no evident nexus to oil until I read that the shadow cast by the mobile maps the oil fields in Iraq. There are photographs documenting the first expatriate Aramco executives and their then inexplicable desire to play golf in the desert, with locals observing with confused expressions. A sculpture is composed of the drill heads used to bore through the earth to tap oil deposits.
I am intrigued by the contrast – art focused on oil in a pristine white environment, and the green gardens outside contrasted with the playful man made art garden on the Center’s roof. Then across a canal from this white modern block building is an ornate traditional Palazzo Versace hotel. Like Dubai itself – a study in opulence and a study in contrasts.
The particulars: The Jameel Arts Center is free of charge (at least for now) and you can get directions and hours on the website http://www.artjameel.org. The art/design/history library is a great resource and open to the public, also free of charge.