Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dubai's failed bid to buy an artistic identity

There's a new book out about Dubai, written by the man hired to make Dubai a cultural mecca -- Michael Schindhelm.

Michael Wise has a review:
His pressing task was to create swiftly what Dubai's leaders proclaimed would be "the most comprehensive cultural destination in the world." This included, first and foremost, an opera housed within an undulating structure designed by starchitect Zaha Hadid to resemble sand dunes and meant to accommodate an audience of 3,000 in a society with no tradition of theater or music. Schindhelm tried in vain to point out the acoustic drawbacks of such a mammoth auditorium, pushing instead for a never-to-be-built opera house....

Schindhelm was hampered from the outset by the profound disarray and highly opaque decision-making of Dubai's madcap dash to globalize. He was assigned to work in the same skyscraper where Dubai's top government authorities sat on the 52nd floor, while his own office was located on the 28th with two phone lines, only one of which could make international calls. The fax machine was on the 36th floor, and the photocopier was on the fourth.

He was also confronted by particularly Arabic notions of Western culture. He was told early on, for example, that Dubai natives believe "piano playing comes from the devil's fingers" and warned, "You will have to convince us otherwise." Opera for some in Dubai, Schindhelm reports, is really the Lion King....

In an interview about his book, he told the Berliner Morgenpost that Dubai customs officials would not let him receive by mail a monograph about the painter Francis Bacon because they feared its contents contravened Islamic dietary strictures.
Never mind that in Dubai you can buy every cut of pork, kind of sausage, or version of, um, bacon known to mankind.

But Wise wisely ends on a cautionary note for naysayers of all kinds:
Schindhelm writes in his book that Dubai is still working to create an alternative to the social injustice and religious fanaticism in neighboring Saudi Arabia and nearby Iran and Pakistan. Perhaps he was naive to see in the desert sands an opportunity for a cultural utopia, but he's wise to warn against gloating over the end of the city's glitzy heyday. With its central location between Europe and Asia, Dubai seems likely to survive and thrive, if more soberly, as a trading center. But next time, it might do better to realize that culture is worth more than just eye candy for real estate megalomania that can too easily run amok.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Opera for some in Dubai, Schindhelm reports, is really the Lion King....

Now, that is truly an insult. No, seriously.

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Alpha Tango said...

Thanks. I know now to not even waste bodily movement and time in picking up a copy of what sounds to me like a nauseatingly self-serving book by a genuine idiot, another of a multitude looking to cash in on some Dubai bashing, which is SO a la mode these days.
The opera is Lion King? Francis Bacon and the pianist as the devil?
What on Great God's immense universe is yet another a$$hole from the Art World smoking?
Whatever it is, it must surely be banned in the UAE.

9:58 PM  
Anonymous Alpha Tango said...

One more thing:
There is a nascent art and genuine cultural scene developing in Dubai.
Why do people keep forgetting this is a brand new city?
"The fax machine was on the 36th floor, and the photocopier was on the fourth."
Typical art guy. Too damn lazy, and far too demanding.
For God's sakes, as they say in Arabic: "Excuses far uglier than the the accusation or the complaints."

Jesus.......... the gall of some people.

10:10 PM  
Blogger elon said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:04 AM  
Blogger elon said...

its a pity they used a crap mackie mixer. what an ugly runt bit of kitartistic

11:05 AM  

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