Art fans in the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have started the countdown. In a little over a month the ‘Louvre Abu Dhabi’ will finally open its doors to the public: a unique building and a first of its kind collection under one roof on the Arabian Peninsula.
By Arthur Blok*
Rays of sunlight will shine over the visitors of the ‘Louvre Abu Dhabi’ starting 11 November. This so called ‘rain of light’ will pass through a total of eight layers that filter the sunlight of the silvery dome of the museum that took alone approximately two years to complete. The massive dome has a weight of 7,500 tons and is the new landmark of Saadiyat Island in the capitol.
In the museum itself about everything is ready for the grand opening. The brand new trilingual website is up and running, and inside the building the last things are sorted out. Basically, everything is set in place to welcome the first art lovers.
The inside of the museum is designed as an Arab medina where visitors can walk through cozy promenades overlooking the sea beneath the museums 180-metre dome, comprised of almost 8,000 unique metal stars set in a complex geometric pattern. When sunlight filters through, it creates a moving ‘rain of light’ beneath the dome.
The impressive structure was designed by the renowned French architect Jean Nouvel who designed some of the most notable buildings all over the world, and won many awards such as the Pritzker Prize. Some of his notable works include the Arab World Institute in Paris, the Monolith of Expo 2002 in Switzerland, 100 Eleventh Avenue in New York, and the Burj Doha in Qatar.
This magnificent new addition to his portfolio and to the UAE’s capital is expected to seriously boost the overall tourism sector. The construction was delayed for quite some years. The Louvre in Paris already announced the initiative in 2007, but the economic slowdown caused by a dip in oil prices caused a delay in the opening of about five years.
Even though it shares its name with the famous Louvre it is neither a branch nor an extension: it is a joint venture between the UAE and France. Since it is designated to be an individual institution the museum will offer its visitors its own interpretation of a universal museum, reflecting its era combined with the local traditions of the UAE.
On display will be more than 600 artworks, half of which will be on loan from French top institutions and are rotated on a ten-year basis. These artworks will span the entirety of human existence: from prehistorical objects to commissioned contemporary artworks. In addition to the galleries, the museum will include exhibitions, a Children’s Museum, a restaurant, a boutique and a café.
His Excellency Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority and Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) explained that the Louvre Abu Dhabi ‘embodies the belief that nations thrive on diversity and acceptance, with a curatorial narrative that emphasizes how interconnected the world has always been’. His Excellency added that the museum represents ‘the latest innovation in a long-standing tradition of cultural preservation nurtured by the founding leaders of the UAE’.
In the so called ‘Great Vestibule’ of the building the art journey begins. Visitors are introduced to important local themes such as maternity and funerary rituals. The art galleries will be both chronological and thematic, and subdivided into 12 chapters. Displays include works from the earliest empires, including the first figurative representations, such as funerary practices of ancient Egypt.
A gallery dedicated to universal religions will feature sacred texts: a Leaf from the “Blue Quran”, a Gothic Bible, a Pentateuch and texts from Buddhism and Taoism. The artistic exchanges on the trading routes during the Medieval and Modern periods are brought to the fore through an important number of ceramic works. Between Asia and the Mediterranean and then between Europe and America.
In a section about Modernity are the self-portrait by Vincent Van Gogh, Edouard Manet’s the Gypsy, Paul Gauguin’s Children Wrestling, and Piet Mondrian’s Composition with Blue, Red, Yellow and Black on show. Together with monumental work by Ai Weiwei (1957) and his questioning of globalization, and the famous La Belle Ferronnière by master Leonardo da Vinci just to name a few pieces.
Ms. Françoise Nyssen, the French Minister of Culture described the planned opening of the museum next month as a ‘milestone’ in the development of the cooperation between the two countries. “This museum is one of the most ambitious cultural projects in the world, brought to light by Nouvel’s exceptional architectural masterpiece. With the expertise of its cultural institutions and loans from its national collections, France is particularly proud to play a significant role.”
In the outdoor area’s works by renowned contemporary artists will be on display. American artist Jenny Holzer (1950) has created three engraved stone walls named the museum which cite historical texts from Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah, the Mesopotamian bilingual (Akkadian / Sumerian) Creation Myth tablet, and the 1588 annotated edition of Michel de Montaigne’s Les Essais. Italian artist Giuseppe Penone (1947) has produced several works especially for the museum.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi will treat its visitors to an unprecedented experience on the Arabian Peninsula indeed. The inauguration week next month will also feature two prestigious events coproduced under the French-Emirati Cultural Programme. The opening celebrations will include a wide range of public programs, including symposiums, performances, concerts, dance, and visual arts by contemporary and classical artists. An event surely not be missed by art fans from across the globe.
Arthur Blok is the Executive Editor of The Levant News. He is a Dutch journalist and author who is specialized in writing about the Middle-East. In the past fifteen years, he published various books in the Netherlands on Lebanon (translated into Arabic) and wrote for wide variety of international newspapers, magazines and websites. He is currently based in Dubai.