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Has Dubai bounced back enough that it can now afford an Opera House and a Modern Art Museum now? That, at any rate, is the plan announced on the opening day of the Art Dubai 2012. The internationally closely watched art fair offered a good opportunity to underscore the city’s major cultural ambitions. Almost exactly four years earlier, the gigantic development zone Khor Dubai had been announced. Back then, Dubai apparently wanted to trump the spectacular museum projects in Abu Dhabi. But the hubris of a "Day-after-Tomorrow-Country" with absolutely unlimited possibilities came to an abrupt end with the 2009 financial crisis. The moment for a new, if much more modest beginning was favorable. Two months earlier, Abu Dhabi had had to confirm that it was postponing for several years the opening of its museum buildings on Saadiyat Island . Of the art and cultural institutions originally planned there, only three remained, and there are doubts whether these will actually be realized in the intended dimensions.
But skepticism is warranted also toward the announced Dubai Modern Art Museum. The official press release contains neither statements on its size, collection, and exhibition operations, nor on its architects and envisioned dates. The Dubai Art Museum and the Opera House District are advertised primarily – and with the usual superlatives – as a "stylish cultural destination". "It will be Dubai's definitive entertainment destination that stimulates creativity, supports the arts sector, and also offers visitors their choice of hospitality and leisure."
One wonders whether the Opera House and the Museum are not merely name-giving icons of yet another theme park. The project of the real estate company Emaar Properties PJSC is conceived to ennoble its "flagship development", Downtown Dubai. There, on 3.5-km Emaar Boulevard, are already such spectacular buildings as the Burj Khalifa (the highest tower in the world), the Dubai Mall (whose operators claim it is the world’s largest shopping and entertainment center), and the Dubai Fountain (a "world-class water, light and music spectacle"). For the new area of this central district, galleries, design studios, two art hotels, "an array of leisure components" and several residential apartments are envisaged, along with the Opera House and the Museum of Modern Art.
This is all a few sizes smaller than the mammoth project Khor Dubai, presented in 2008 as a "new model for the future of culture and the arts", including one opera house, more than 10 museums, 14 theaters, 11 galleries, 9 public libraries, 72 "cultural icons", and 7 cultural and arts institutes for local and foreign artists.  As is well known, Dubai soon thereafter became a case for restructuring…
It remains to be seen how much of the Dubai Modern Art Museum and Opera House District will ultimately remain for the arts, what collection the Museum will house, and who will be able to afford to rent the galleries and studio spaces, which will certainly not be cheap. Despite all avowals that this will offer "the entire infrastructure for arts and culture to thrive", it is not clear how the new district could advance artistic creation that is not directly oriented toward commerce.
Pat Binder & Gerhard Haupt
Publishers of Universes in Universe - Worlds of Art and of Nafas Art Magazine. Based in Berlin, Germany.
Plans for a Dubai Art Museum and Opera House District announced in March 2012.