Louvre opens doors in Abu Dhabi
The 'universal museum' is envisioned to showcase diversity in a multi-polar world, says Jean-Luc Martinez
10 November, 2017
More than ten years in the making, the Louvre Abu Dhabi was opened on 8 November, exporting the famous French brand to the East with the concept for a “universal museum” and a message of tolerance, newswires report.
The official inauguration ceremony was attended by French President Emmanuel Macron, Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, and Moroccan King Mohammed VI.
Located on Saadiyat Island, the museum designed by architect Jean Nouvel opened its doors to visitors on Saturday, 10 November. Some 5,000 people are expected to visit the museum in the first few days.
The festivities marking the unveiling of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which the Chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak describes as “a symbol of a tolerant nation”, will continue until 14 November.
The modern museum design, which conjures up the image of an Arab medina, is composed of 55 buildings. Blank cubed walls catch the reflection of light off the water of the Persian Gulf. Gulf breezes cool the museum’s dark corridors. Sunshine peeks through the 7,850 unique metal stars in its massive 7,500-tonne dome stretching 180m (590ft), creating what Nouvel describes as a "rain of light”.
One does not notice how big the museum is until walking through its permanent galleries, which encompass some 6,400 sq m (68,890 sq ft). The arrangement of art inside is not bunched together as well, offering an airy feeling.
Jean-Luc Martinez, president of the Louvre in Paris, said the new museum was designed "to open up to others, to understand diversity" in "a multipolar world", in a word, be universal.
Unlike museums that traditionally organise their collections by school or civilisation, the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s display picks out universal themes and intercultural influences from prehistoric times to modern day.
“This is more than just a museum. It tells history,” Mubarak says.
The conservative morals of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), can be seen in the relative absence of pieces depicting nudity. Still, artwork at the new Louvre offers a brief history of the world and its major religions, not shying away from Judaism in a country that officially does not recognise Israel. Sharing one gallery are a page from a 9th-century Blue Quran, a 1498 Yemeni Torah, a Buddhist Sutra and two volumes of a 13th-century Gothic Bible.
The museum management believes that among the highlights in the display is Leonardo da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronniere (on loan from the Louvre in Paris). A total of 300 artworks, including a Vincent van Gogh self-portrait, are presented in the Louvre Abu Dhabi galleries on loan from 13 leading museums in France.
Among the 28 works on loan from Middle East institutions is a two-headed Neolithic statue from Jordan, dating back 8,000 years. One of the oldest known in human history, it is one of the first artworks a visitor sees stepping into the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
The museum had 235 works of art on display on its opening day, including Edouard Manet's The Gypsy. The authorities have put in place strict measures to protect the art from the heat in a country where summer temperatures soar well above 40 degrees Celsius (more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit).
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is the result of a rare government accord in 2007 between France and the UAE. Its opening was delayed multiple times, mainly for financial reasons. There is also no small amount of criticism voiced in France regarding the “sale” of the Louvre brand.
Abu Dhabi officials have not disclosed how much it cost to build the museum. What is known is that Abu Dhabi agreed to pay France $525m for the use of the “Louvre” name for the next 30 years and six months, plus another $750m to hire French managers to oversee the 300 loaned works of art.