During his keynote address at the United Arab Emirates' Global Art Forum this weekend, Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art, threw caution — and local Muslim custom — to the wind. The high-toned think tank of architects (Rem Koolhaas), artists (A Wei Wei, Tony Cragg, Anish Kapoor, via video), and government leaders was held alongside the area’s first art fair, Art Dubai. (Think Art Basel Miami's beach parties, but with camels, silver trays of dates and $1.15-a-gallon gas.) In his talk on the history of MoMA, Lowry showed Cézanne's scantily clad bather and Picasso's classic Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, a Cubist take on five naked prostitutes. The dealers in the art fair rustled more uncomfortably than the white- and black-robed locals; after all, the dealers had skipped on bringing nudes, fearing censorship. Said Art Dubai director and London dealer John Martin, "I didn't want to get a call from a sheikh saying, 'My two wives and seven daughters don't like this.'" But, Martin noted, "That call never came."
The response to Lowry's speech, in fact, was applause — especially when the director, an Islamic scholar, finished up by saying he'd found some good artists at the fair and that the Modern should be showing more Middle Eastern art. Dubai cultural official Scott Desmarais lauded Lowry's job as "terrific," nudes and all, and said the two were working on some joint projects. That may mean a windfall for the Modern; the Louvre, for example, cut a deal with neighboring Emirate of Abu Dhabi for the loan of its art and its name that netted the museum a cool $550 million. —Alexandra Peers