Abu Dhabi: art + architecture

A few weeks ago I gave a presentation to the local creative community, talking about ‘Abu Dhabi: art + architecture’. It was an opportunity to introduce Australians to the concept of the art + culture renaissance starting to bloom in the Middle East, and it took people’s breaths away.

And rightly so, the vision is utterly breathtaking.

Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates (Dubai is an hour down the road) and the largest emirate of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, is leading the way with plans to diversify its fossil-fuelled economy based on tourism, renewable energy and art + culture.

Yes folks, the people in the world with access to the most oil and gas and cash are diversifying their economy in rapid earnest….

Saadiyat Cultural District

Saadiyat Cultural District

The grand vision of Abu Dhabi is to establish a global cultural hub, the Saadiyat Cultural District, on the pristine and stunning natural Saadiyat Island (“the island of happiness”). This will be home to five world-class museums, an art gallery precinct, art exhibitions and festival spaces, as well as five-star beachfront hotels, a golf course, residential and business complexes and restaurants galore. It will be a destination within a destination.

Louvre Abu Dhabi-1

Louvre Abu Dhabi, architect: Jean Nouvel.

First cab off the rank in this vision, is the French ‘starchitect’ Jean Nouvel-designed Louvre Abu Dhabi, which is due to open at the end of 2015. Yes, that’s right – they are opening the first ever Louvre outside of France in Abu Dhabi. This will be a ‘universal museum’ in the Arab world, presenting major objects from the fields of archeology, fine arts and decorative arts. It will represent all regions and art periods, including contemporary art and the narrative of art history – reflecting the region’s role as a crossroads for civilisations.

Abu Dhabi was traditionally an economy based on trade and pearl-diving, with caravans from Oman carrying valuable Frankincense passing through on the ancient Silk Route on their way to Turkey, and ultimately Europe. So the vision is a return to the days of Abu Dhabi’s role as a crossroads for the exchange of culture and dialogue.

Zayed National Museum - architects: Foster + Partners

Zayed National Museum – architects: Foster + Partners

Next to open in the Saadiyat Cultural District is the Zayed National Musuem in 2016. Designed by UK architects, Foster + Partners, the building has been inspired by the dynamic flight and feathers of a falcon. This museum will tell the story of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, considered the Father of the Nation of the UAE. He is credited with unifying the previously separate seven emirates that now make up the United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain) in 1971. The museum will also showcase the proud Emirati cultural heritage, including Sheikh Zayed’s love of the traditional art of falconry.

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi museum - architect: Frank Gehry

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi museum – architect: Frank Gehry

And then, in 2017 the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will throw its doors open to the world.  Designed by internationally-renowned architect Frank Gehry, the museum will house its own major modern and contemporary art collection and present special exhibitions including works from the Guggenheim Foundation‘s extensive collection.

This will be the largest Guggenheim in the world (naturally…) and is aimed at creating an unprecedented vibrant cultural destination for visitors from across the globe.

Following the opening of these three museums, will be a Performing Arts Centre and a Maritime Museum.

So what’s there to see now? In the lead up to the opening of the Saadiyat Cultural District, Abu Dhabi has initiated a program of exhibitions and art festivals to encourage and foster a culture of appreciation for the arts.

Manarat Al Saadiyat

Manarat Al Saadiyat

The Manarat Al Saadiyat (“the place of enlightenment”) is an exhibition and gallery space featuring events all year round. Together with the UAE Pavilion, this is home to the annual Abu Dhabi Art contemporary art fair in November each year.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


On Saadiyat Island itself it’s possible to stay at the five-star  beachfront resorts of St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort and Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas. There’s an exclusive beach club with a plethora of restaurants at Monte Carlo Beach Club and the Gary Player-designed Saadiyat Beach Golf Club.

Impressive huh? Abu Dhabi’s close to my heart, and Saadiyat Island is one of the most beautiful islands in the world. I can’t wait to get back there and see how it’s transformed over the few years with the opening of the Saadiyat Cultural District.





signs of a faded era

Emerging from a two week hiatus due to Masters-semester aftershock and a bout of the flu, am regaining my inspiration from a new penchant I’ve developed for discovering a plethora of vintage painted advertisements on the walls of old corner stores, gasoline pumps and warehouses in the villages that surround the Orange region.

Apparently searching for the ghosts of times past is now a bit of a thing in our cosmopolitan cities, but the real glories are to be found out here in the countryside because these signs are hardly faded at all. But it most definitely involves a skill of looking up, peeking around corners, and opening up new vistas to include the story lines of the past in your view.

The first beauty here above [ETA Peanut Butter] was found in Forbes, old Ben Hall country, and below are glorious examples of a Billy Tea ad found on the lane way side of a corner store and a 1930s Atlantic Motor Oil ad slapped on the side of a terrace house next to a disused motor garage in Carcoar.

Billy Tea, Carcoar

Billy Tea, Carcoar


Atlantic Motor Oil, Carcoar

Over in Canowindra, I found a sign exhorting us to ‘start the day well with Kincara – the super sorted tea’. It’s on the side of an old general store which is now the elegant tasting rooms for Swinging Bridge Wines, so still enabling us all to start the day rather pleasantly.

Kincara Tea, Canowindra

Kincara Tea, Canowindra

After a roundtrip of the villages, it’s back to Orange and to my favourite of them all. Another Billy Tea stunner on the side of the wall of my favourite local restaurant, the Rocking Horse Lounge.

Billy Tea, Rocking Horse Lounge in Orange

Billy Tea, Rocking Horse Lounge in Orange


art is food for the soul

There’s a little guerrilla art front sweeping through Orange at the moment, timed perfectly around the fringes of the Orange FOOD Week festival in April.

Starting with the first PopArt Collective pop-up launch and gallery events last week, local exhibiting artists Eva Frengstad, Matilda Julian, Larissa Blake, Robyn Youll, Scott Gillbank, Kate Maurice and Amy Hick are now on the search for the next secret shed or vibrant venue where they can storm in and transform the joint. Their launch was party of the year in my books, so can’t wait for the next one.

This week a little standalone PopUp Art Show appeared in a former cornerstore on the corner of Autumn and Summer Streets in East Orange (is that the most poetic address for an art gallery or what?). Open each Friday, Saturday and Sunday during this year’s Orange FOOD Week, 4-13 April, this sweet little art space is showcasing works from young local emerging artists Madeline Young, Curtis Peasley, Ellie Hannon, Maggie Warrell and Amelia Herbertson. What’s even better, Bill’s Beans East Orange is up on the next corner – hooray.

One of the most established art collectives in Orange, the Colour City Creatives are also in on the act, holding open day art workshops and events at their studios in The Barracks (a disused railway building). Local renowned artist Joy Engelman has been leading the charge to support the inaugural Cancer Council Charity Art Auction at The Agrestic Grocer on Wednesday 9 April. This will feature works from the Colour City Creative collective, as well as local sculptor Senden Blackwood.

And then there’s the wonderful online gallery space Art of Orange, another organic collective of local artists selling reproduction prints of their most popular works. I’m personally a big fan of Marianne Courtenay’s impressions of Mount Canobolas, you can see the originals hanging at the Printhie Wines cellar door. I’ve also previously written about Jayes Gallery in Molong, a wonderful space and always hosting new exhibitions from local artists.

So many artists, so much time – this region is really glorious for art. Of course, this has been a bit of a tradition since the 1960s and it looks like everyone else is just starting to catch up. Me, I’m beside myself. Had been wondering how I’d deal with the wrench from the United Arab Emirates and leaving behind Abu Dhabi Art, Saadiyat Island Cultural District and the imminent opening of the spectacular Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Watching all of this Australian grassroots arts flourish in the vineyards and rolling hills of the Orange region has given me some of my mojo back, and I’ve signed up for the Orange Regional Arts Foundation and ArtsOutWest so I don’t miss a thing. Next step is an adventure out to Hill End Press to see what they’re up to with their vintage foot treadle press.

ArtsHub recently had a fantastic article on the great divide between city and regional artists, and the misperception that nothing happens of any interest in regional areas:

1 in 3 people live in regional Australia, yet most government support for the arts seemed magnetically bound to Melbourne and Sydney. No major art institutions did programs in Sandie’s town. Many of the metropolitan-focused arts organisations and artists that visited had a strange messiah complex, thinking they were bringing arts to a cultural wasteland. They were frequently disgruntled to find successful artists already resident there.

The truth is: the space, diversity, complexity, relationships to place and change all bring marvellous hues to cutting edge contemporary art in regional areas. This is most definitely the place to be to watch this all flourish.



revving up for a regional PopArt renaissance


There’s nothing like relocating to the countryside and having art happenings find you. The warehouse launch of Orange’s new PopArt Collective blew our minds, and simultaneously reassured us our migration from Abu Dhabi to the vineyards was one of the smartest moves we’ve made.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a building facade uplighted in Orange before, so even before we stepped into the warehouse we were amazed. And let’s backtrack here – warehouse party in Orange? hell yeah! Stepping into Sam’s Automotive (an old flour mill repurposed as a pop-up art gallery/ wine bar/ live performance space for the weekend) was like stepping straight into any of the art events I’ve been to in Surry Hills, Dublin or Abu Dhabi – but with local artists, local art, local wine (this is a huge bonus, believe me), local food and zero pretension. The crowd was awesome.

Milling around at the entrance, enveloped by the DJ soundscape and the warehouse vibe feast for the senses, we were given a card to hang on a wishing tree for the opportunity to win a piece of fresh PopArt at the end of the evening. Oh the joy: I’m quite partial to the wishing tree concept after spending a few days wandering around Kyoto temples once upon a time.

Then it was straight to the bar. Run by the superb crew of the Union Bank Wine Bar, this was an event bar like no other – serving up some of the best the region has to offer with Printhie wines & sparkling (I’m already a fan) and handcrafted pale ale from Badlands Brewery.

Invigorating art from the ten current artists of the PopArt Collective lit up the warehouse walls and caverns, our favourite part of all this was how workbenches and tools had just been pushed against walls and absorbed into the installation. I kind of lingered at the corner where Amy Hick’s exquisite Porcelain wall pieces were on display, if I described them as amazingly delicate white porcelain doilies formed as eccentric coral I’d have to admit I have no idea what I’m talking about. On the night, I drank a glass of Printhie Swift Cuvée while looking at them and then went and bought one.

The pure highlight of the evening was a live performance by a cellist and violinist from The Noise. Could I describe it as classical slash reverb jazz spontaneous improvisation? Really not quite sure what it was, apart from totally heavenly. I was on my third glass of sparkling by this stage, so once the performance finished I went and bought the CD. You should too.

This party ended like all good warehouse parties should, with everyone smoking and drinking on the footpath outside. I was with new-to-town artist Curtis Peasley who waxed lyrical for several minutes about the local renaissance (thank you Badlands, I think), and we both agreed it was kind of fortunate to have returned to the region in time to catch the first wave.

The PopArt Collective is aiming to hold local pop-up gallery regional events at least twice a year, they’ll surprise us with the art and the venues each time. Where to next we wonder? Sky’s the limit. Keep a track of them on their Facebook page or follow them on twitter.



discover: Jayes Gallery, Molong


One of my favourite local destinations, and a gorgeous country drive, Jayes Art Gallery and Cafe in Molong is a real treat. Local artisan jewellery and pottery and boutique items are available in the gift store as you enter, and the art gallery at the back of the store is always featuring exhibitions from local and Australian artists. The real secret to this place is the outdoor sculpture garden and the cafe next door.

This month’s exhibition, opening Friday 31 January, is focused on quintessential Australian artist Norman Lindsay (1879-1969). The exhibition features originals and etchings by Norman Lindsay, in conjunction with Canberra’s Aarwan Gallery  – with all of the works available for sale (that’s just a little bit wow).

The Norman Lindsay exhibition is running from 31 January to 2 March. Take the drive out to Molong to see it, have a coffee while you’re there, and then drop into The Agrestic Grocer on your way back into Orange. That’s pretty much what I do.


Local artists represented by Jayes Gallery include the award-winning Joy Engelman, Michael CarrollAida Pottinger, Tim WintersEris Fleming, Julie Williams, Jaq DaviesCatherine Hale and Josephine Jagger-Manners.

You can also find out more about Molong here, personally I am waiting with anticipation for Belgravia Wines to open their new cellar door at the old Molong railway station – hurry up guys :0) Follow them on Facebook for updates.

100km art show: worth making the trek

Featuring local artists living within a 50km radius from Orange, the 100km art show makes an appearance at the Orange Regional Gallery every two years or so. This year the theme is sustainability, with artists invited to express their views about Australia’s complex relationship with the environment and possible ways forward.

Declared “an exhibition to spark debate” by local newspaper Central Western Daily from the outset, I’m not entirely sure if any of the questions get answered but there’s some knock-out stuff from the local talent which is worth getting immersed in.

Jane Tyack’s ‘Australians all let us recoil’ kind of sets the pace as one of the exhibition’s main features, constructed from a recycled coil spring mattress and echoing words (intentionally / unintentionally / question mark) from Melbourne hiphop artists TZU.

The current PM gets lambasted for being an ‘unsustainable joke’ on climate change, so I guess that’s where the Central Western Daily thinks it all gets a little provocative, and then you’ve got sculptor Senden Blackwood‘s ‘Death Star Egg’ nestling in old rubber tyres and evoking Star Wars.

There’s also the stunning ‘Pockmarked Paradise – Pillars WA 2012’ by award-winning local artist Joy Engelman – part of her Land/Marks series, an exploration of the organic nature of landscape and the marks man makes on it.

And then there’s a more whimsical element on our relationship with nature, with Jaq Davies’ ‘Trove 2013’ and the charming gold leaf and thread on envelopes and old library cards by Heather Pike, with evocative titles such as ‘yesterday was cold, it reminded me of how you felt’, which I would have bought by the truckload if they hadn’t already been snapped up.

The 100km Art Show – Sustainability is on at the Orange Regional Gallery in Gallery 1 until 2 February 2014. Coming up, Gallery 3 re-opens for the new year with an exhibition by local artist group Studio 15. Their REFLECTIVE MOMENTS exhibition opens to the public from 11 January and runs until 16 February 2014.


You can find the Orange Regional Gallery on Facebook 

almost once: artist Brett Whiteley + sofala + hill end


“Prompting meditations on life and death, burning out and living life to the full”

I’ve always adored Brett Whiteley‘s (1939-1992) sculpture of a burnt and live match, Almost Once. He donated it to the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney just a year before his death in 1992. I’ve seen lots of art and sculpture in museums all over the world, but this one stills brings a smile to my face every time. It seems to be full of irreverent joy, while obviously also prescient.

Brett Whiteley boarded at The Scots College in Bathurst (a one hour drive from Orange) when young, and continued to return to the Central West of NSW often throughout his career. The historic villages of Hill End, Carcoar, Sofala and Millthorpe served as major inspiration and retreat – Sofala was in fact the subject of one of Whiteley’s scholarship submissions which he won in 1960 to go and paint in London.

Hill End, an old gold-rush town 85km from Bathurst, has attracted and inspired three generations of Australian artists, including Donald Friend, Russell Drysdale, John Olsen, Margaret Olley, Jeffrey Smart and Brett Whiteley.