Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol adorned the oil-rich Gulf Arab city that is vying to become the Middle East's culture metropolis.
The region's largest art fair opened featuring 3,000 paintings, sculptures and photographs at the Emirates Palace, a lavish hotel and convention center in Abu Dhabi.
More than 40 gallery owners from 17 countries are hoping the rich Gulf Arabs buy art - something European and Arab expatriates who live in this booming region say they lack the opportunity to purchase locally.
"It's a stereotype and Abu Dhabi is challenging it," said Mubarak Hamad al-Muhairi, director general of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority. He worked with ArtParis, the French art fair, that selected the pieces from 700 artists exhibited at the three-day fair in Abu Dhabi.
Unlike Dubai, Abu Dhabi's neighboring emirate that prides itself by building artificial islands and world's tallest skyscrapers, the Emirates' capital is investing its future in becoming an art and culture center, which it is building on Saadiyat Island.
The natural island off Abu Dhabi's coast will soon be home to satellites museums of New York's Guggenheim and Paris' Louvre.
The Sorbonne University already has a campus in Abu Dhabi and New York University is planning to build a liberal arts college in the next years.
"It's logical to create arts market near a museum," said Caroline Clough-Lacoste, the Paris-based director of Abu Dhabi fair.
She redecorated the Emirates Palace ballroom before exhibiting modern and contemporary art pieces. White canvases hid the gold and marble walls and a gray carpet was laid over the colorful mosaics of the luxurious hotel.
"White and gray, all simple, because the focus today is art, not the gold," Clough-Lacoste said.
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