The much anticipated (and much delayed) Louvre Abu Dhabi will open its doors on 11 November 2017.
Following delays and setbacks over the last decade, the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi in the Saadiyat Cultural District was announced to great fanfare on the morning of 6 September at a press conference stuffed with luminaries from Abu Dhabi, the Louvre and the art world generally. Alongside the TDIC and TCA Abu Dhabi names who have driven the project – including TDIC/TCA chairman Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak and TCA director general Saif Saeed Ghobash – were Manuel Rabaté, director of Louvre Abu Dhabi, and his deputy Hissa Al Dhaheri; Jean-Luc Martinez, president of the Musée du Louvre; and the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s architect Jean Nouvel.
Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the UAE Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, delivered an opening speech on the museum’s ambitious aspirations. “Beauty is the essence of the Louvre Abu Dhabi,” he said, before getting back on message: “this museum will be a celebration of our common humanity and the latest innovation in a long-standing appreciation of cultural awareness nurtured by the leaders of the UAE and a testament to long-lasting friendship between the UAE and France.”
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is pitched as the ‘the first universal museum in the Arab world’. It will open with around 700 works from different cultures and periods that span millennia, mediums and civilisations. Half of the exhibits will come from the museum’s permanent collection, the rest will be loans from a total of 13 major French cultural institutions – including the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris (Leonardo’s La Belle Ferronniére and Monet’s Gare Saint-Lazaire will be among the loans).
“We will talk about all civilisations from the beginning of history to the globalised situation we live in today,” said Manuel Rabaté. “This will be the first time that visitors will be given the opportunity to experience a universal narrative from the very beginnings of beauty in pre-history that always has artworks and civilisations in co-visibility and coexistence.”
As Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak put it, “We are one world; we are a society of acceptance … We feel that much of the Arab world is missing these messages”.
He added that the Louvre Abu Dhabi is an investment in culture, an investment in the UAE’s youth, and ultimately an investment in the UAE’s future, touting the Museum’s high expectations for the community and world (with the more unstated implications for a more down-to-earth boost in soft power and high-end tourism for Abu Dhabi).
It was in 2007 that France and Abu Dhabi signed a 30-year agreement, said to be worth about €1.1m to France. That includes the loan of the Musée du Louvre’s name, loans of artworks for 10 years, and four temporary exhibitions every year for 15 years (one major show, one medium-sized, and two smaller exhibitions).
The museum already looks great, thanks to Nouvel’s ‘rain of light’ design and that dramatic mashrabiya-like dome. But it will also be one of the most secure in the world for both art (there are cutting-edge climate controls for humidity, temperature and light) and for people – Emirati forces have coordinated with French civil defence and terrorism experts to provide a tightly controlled security environment. “The head of security was one of our first appointments” said Manuel Rabaté in an interview with The Art Newspaper.
There will be special exhibitions alongside the dozen or so regular galleries. The first of these is From One Louvre to Another: opening a museum for everyone; that opens on 21 December and traces the history of Musée du Louvre in Paris from the royal collections at Versailles under Louis XIV, through the residency of the Academy and Salons, to the creation of the modern Louvre. It will feature approximately 145 significant paintings, sculptures, decorative arts and other pieces; the exhibition is curated by Jean-Luc Martinez, President-Director of the Louvre, and Juliette Trey, curator of the Louvre’s Prints and Drawings Department.
There won’t be universal free entry, though magpie readers will doubtless be pleased to learn that journalists are among the exempt groups – there’s free entry too for members of the museum’s loyalty programme, children under 13 years, members of the international museum institutional bodies ICOM and ICOMOS, and visitors with special needs. For every else, general admission will be AED 60 (AED 30 for those aged between 13 and 22, and for UAE education professionals). In a recent interview with The National, TCA Abu Dhabi chairman Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak said “everybody goes to the cinema and pays their AED 50 to watch a movie, and we need to pitch it at that kind of level to allow everybody to have the opportunity. On the other hand, we have an operator and we need to keep the museum clean and secure. So as much as possible, we want to try and have some kind of income to offset those costs.”
Stay up to date: here’s the Louvre Abu Dhabi website.
Words: Liz Totton
Above: View from the Louvre Abu Dhabi from the sea. Photography: Mohamed Somji
Below: Osman Hamdi Bey, A Young Emir Studying. 1878 (alternatively, a typical reader engrossed in a rare print copy of the May 2016 issue of magpie. Or not). Permanent collection