The cross-cultural vision of Louvre Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi - Imagine a man-made archipelago rising out of the sea: a calm, complex space beneath a protective parasol that creates an interplay of light and shade evocative of an oasis nestled in the shadows of palm trees. Imagine a space alive with dialogue on the similarities, dissimilarities and relationships between cultures, ethnicities and civilisations, urging visitors to unlearn and redefine everything fragmented studies on anthropology have taught.
Imagine a space called Louvre Abu Dhabi.
Born out of an agreement between France and the United Arab Emirates in 2007, the museum is an association of “two states, two nations, two cultures, two faces of tradition and modernity” as Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière, chairman of the board of Agence France-Museums, says in the preface to Louvre Abu Dhabi: Birth of a Museum.
“The Louvre Abu Dhabi rests on two principles, brought together for the first time at this scale in the world of French culture: the pooling of the expertise of the greatest French museums, guided by the transfer of knowledge and skills to one new institution, which will immediately take on an international dimension,” de Lacharrière writes.
The Abu Dhabi museum — for which construction work is in its final stages — will feature 300 pieces of art on loan from 13 museums across France in addition to more than 500 works it owns, in its first year.
The loans include Leonardo da Vinci’s Portrait of an Unknown Woman (circa 1495), Edouard Manet’s The Fife Player (1866), Claude Monet’s The Saint-Lazare Station (1877), a rare salt cellar in ivory from the Benin kingdom and Henri Matisse’s Still Life with Magnolia (1941).
Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon al- Nahyan, chairman of TCA Abu Dhabi, the organisation with the mandate for Louvre Abu Dhabi, said: “These outstanding loans from our French partners represent the collaboration and exchange, symbolic of Louvre Abu Dhabi and its progress to date. This will be the first time many of these works will travel to Abu Dhabi or even the Middle East and are a rare opportunity to see important art from French museums in dialogue with the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s collection. Ultimately, we hope to offer visitors a unique experience from a new perspective that underlines the universal spirit of the entire project.”
The pieces on display will include not only works of art but also artefacts expected in a natural history museum rather than an art museum, such as a blade dating to prehistoric times. “Look at the aesthetics, symmetry, involved in these so-called tools! Yes, they are utilitarian but aren’t they also works of art?” asks Hissa al-Dhaheri, programme manager of Louvre Abu Dhabi.
“Louvre Abu Dhabi does not aim to be a replica of Musée du Louvre. It is an independent concept that will reflect universal values, even as it stays rooted in Arabian culture. We plan to host artefacts and artworks that span from antiquity to the contemporary through the many galleries across the four wings of the museum,” she said
“We want to challenge the existing beliefs of culture by offering people visual proof of contact between cultures. We want them to ask questions like how the clothing on the sculpture of a Roman orator from the second century shares common features with that of Bodhisattva from the same period, despite the fact that they come from two different parts of the globe.”
To build excitement prior to its opening, the museum has been engaging with the Abu Dhabi community. Since 2009, when the first 19 pieces were displayed, Louvre Abu Dhabi has been hosting displays, lectures and talks periodically at Manarat Al Sadiyat.
It has been conducting educational programmes and seeking to involve students through workshops and tours.
The recent completion and placement of the museum’s 7,000-tonne canopy, a marvel of technology and engineering, drew a lot of attention. Revealing the spectacular vision of Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, the canopy encloses a space larger than two football pitches and is the height of an 11-storey building.
The UAE has been consistently making its mark in the field of art and culture and there is little doubt that Louvre Abu Dhabi has already caught the attention of many in the international community. “Yes, this will be an oasis of art and culture,” said Dhaheri.