The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

Home of mas­ter­pieces: Saadiyat Is­land takes shape WHEN Christie’s auc­tioned the ex­trav­a­gant art col­lec­tion of Yves Saint Lau­rent and Pierre Berge in Paris in Fe­bru­ary, there was a new bid­der on the block. And it was a bid­der with very deep pock­ets, able to spend al­most $US30 mil­lion ($36m) on Mon­drian’s

and to snap up a 1920s stool for $US640,000. The new en­trant to the art-col­lect­ing elite is the Lou­vre in Abu Dhabi, the Mid­dle East­ern emi­rate sit­ting on oceans of oil (about 8 per cent of the planet’s to­tal known de­posits) and hectares of nat­u­ral gas. This Ara­bian out­post of the French mu­seum looks set to be the big draw­card of Saadiyat (Hap­pi­ness) Is­land, Abu Dhabi’s $US27 bil­lion tilt at be­com­ing an in­ter­na­tional cul­tural hub.

With an ethe­real per­fo­rated white dome de­sign by Jean Nou­vel, the new Lou­vre will be a repos­i­tory of mas­ter­pieces across all faiths and cul­tures. Christ sculp­tures, Bud­dha heads and an­cient Ko­rans will vie for at­ten­tion along­side works by old and new mas­ters. It will op­er­ate un­der the sanc­tion of the Paris Lou­vre, the world’s most pop­u­lar mu­seum, which re­port­edly pock­eted about $US1.3bn for this pi­o­neer­ing fran­chise deal, spark­ing crit­i­cism by art purists that the ven­er­a­ble Lou­vre has sold out. French pres­i­dent Jac­ques Chirac re­sponded to the charge by say­ing the ven­ture showed France and Abu Dhabi were each ‘‘ proud of its roots and of its iden­tity [and] is con­scious of the equal dig­nity of all cul­tures’’.

The Abu Dhabi Lou­vre is ex­pected to open in 2013, and will fea­ture four ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tions a year. Ken­dall Hill

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