Magazine article Newsweek

Oil's Paintings

Magazine article Newsweek

Oil's Paintings

Article excerpt

Byline: Lorraine Ali

In 2007, Forbes named Abu Dhabi the wealthiest city in the world, and like nouveaux riches everywhere, it has gone on a bit of a spending spree. Local branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums are under construction. They'll join the Abu Dhabi Poetry Academy and the Arab Heritage Village, with exhibits on life in the Gulf centuries before the mall with the ski slope moved into the neighborhood. And then there's Zaha Hadid's swooping design for the five-theater Performing Arts Center, which will make the Sydney Opera House look like a grade-school auditorium. Aside from the sand that still occasionally blows across the modern cityscape, the Abu Dhabi of a few decades ago wouldn't recognize itself today. But the most impressive display of cultural pride--not to mention deep pockets--sits on the floor of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. It is the world's largest prayer rug--60,546 square feet of vibrant wool, handmade in Iran. It is so dazzling, you almost don't notice the gold-leaf domes above. Almost.

Oil wealth has long financed outrageous opulence in the Gulf. Compared with nearby Dubai--home to the world's tallest building, the world's only seven-star hotel, and a group of man-made islands arranged to look like a miniature map of the world--Abu Dhabi practically looks conservative. What's different about the building boom in this tiny emirate is that behind it lies a common-sense master plan. The "2030 Plan" is, in fact, designed to insure against the day no OPEC nation wants to think about--the day the wells dry up. The state's oil reserves, which make up 5 to 10 percent of the world's supply, could run out in as little as 50 years. "Just because Abu Dhabi has this fantastic resource of oil, no matter how long it has to run, they have to mold something meaningful here," says Tony Orsten, CEO of a media company called Twofour54. …

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