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Canadian-born architect Frank Gehry will design the new Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. (CP Photo)

Canadian-born architect Frank Gehry has been tapped by the Guggenheim Foundation to design a new contemporary art museum in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

The foundation announced Saturday that the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will be open by 2011 with323,000 square feetof space.

"The Guggenheim implicitly regards all contemporary cultures and their traditions as potential partners in the field of esthetic discourse — we are both respectful of difference and excited by it," said Thomas Krens, the foundation's director, in a statement.

"We also believe that the Middle East is one of the world's most important emerging regions in terms of contemporary culture."

The government signed a memorandum of understanding with Krens on Saturday as Gehry looked on.

Construction is slated to begin soon on Saadiyat Island, developed as a new cultural district of the city.

"[This project] represents the determination of the Abu Dhabi government to create a world-class cultural destination for its residents and visitors," said Abu Dhabi's crown prince, Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, at the signing.

A city of wealth lacking in culture

The museum will display its own collection of modern artworks as well as pieces from its global collections.

Abu Dhabi is largely known as a city of wealth and luxury but not culture.The United Arab Emirates has the fifth-largest oil reserves in the world.

The foundation was established by philanthropist Solomon R. Guggenheim in 1937 with a flagship museum in New York City and satellite galleries in Bilbao, Spain— also designed by Gehry— Berlin, Venice and Las Vegas.

Gehry, born in 1929 in Toronto, is known for his audacious designs featuring waves of brushed titanium and the off-centre look of his architecture.

The Art Gallery of Ontario hired Gehry for its $194-million renovation, which angered its biggest patron, Joey Tanenbaum.

Tanenbaum was upset over "needless destruction" of some areas of the gallery.