Lou­vre Abu Dhabi draws cos­mopoli­tan crowd on open­ing day

Business World - - ARTS & LEISURE -

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMI­RATES — The Lou­vre Abu Dhabi opened its doors to the pub­lic on Satur­day, draw­ing thou­sands of vis­i­tors as cos­mopoli­tan as the United Arab Emi­rates it­self, a sym­bol of the Gulf na­tion’s am­bi­tions on the global stage.

Light streamed down from the vast domed ceil­ing, the open-air mu­seum rem­i­nis­cent of a tra­di­tional Ara­bic mar­ket­place.

Sur­rounded by wa­ter from three sides, the mu­seum houses 600 art­works it has ac­quired, along­side 300 works on loan from 13 lead­ing French in­sti­tu­tions, in its 23 per­ma­nent gal­leries. The artists range from Paul Gau­guin and Vin­cent Van Gogh to Pablo Pi­casso and Cy Twombly.

In­side, Emi­rati teenagers in flow­ing black robes snapped self­ies next to a tow­er­ing oil paint­ing of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Hun­dreds of Asian, European, and Arab ex­pa­tri­ates dressed in stylish at­tire roamed through the vast mu­seum along­side Emi­rati cou­ples in tra­di­tional Ara­bic dress.

“I’m so ex­cited to see what’s in the Lou­vre. I don’t know how to pro­nounce it,” gig­gled Rachel Aquino, a Filip­ina nurse liv­ing in Abu Dhabi.

“LOOV,” her friend Ruby Ful­lon, a fel­low nurse from the Philip­pines, pro­nounced.

Down the pala­tial rear steps of the open- air struc­ture, Alex Viera and Marcelo de Paula from Brazil snapped pho­tos on a plat­form jut­ting out over the sea, with tra­di­tional dhow wooden ships moored in the back­ground.

“I’ve been to the Lou­vre in Paris three times... I think it’s very nice to see it here in a mod­ern con­text,” said Viera.


The Lou­vre Abu Dhabi, the first mu­seum to bear the Lou­vre name out­side France, presents around 600 pieces and has been billed as “the first univer­sal mu­seum in the Arab world.”

“It is a lot more than just a mu­seum. It is a cen­ter of peace, ac­cep­tance, tol­er­ance and ed­u­ca­tion,” Mo­hamed al- Mubarak, chair­man of the depart­ment of cul­ture and tourism in Abu Dhabi, told Reuters.

Un­der the 30-year agree­ment, France pro­vides ex­per­tise, loans works of art and or­ga­nizes tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tions — in return for €1 bil­lion ($1.16 bil­lion).

The Lou­vre in France takes a €400-mil­lion share of that sum for the use of its name up to 2037.

For the next 10 years, the mother ship in Paris will lend works to its Abu Dhabi part­ner on a vol­un­tary ba­sis, for a max­i­mum of two years.

For its per­ma­nent col­lec­tion, the mu­seum has ac­quired hun­dreds of pieces, dat­ing from the ear­li­est Me­sopotamian civ­i­liza­tions to the present day.

Per­ma­nent in­stal­la­tions in­clude a sculp­ture by Au­guste Rodin, an enor­mous bronze tree with mir­rored branches called Leaves of Light by Ital­ian artist Giuseppe Penone, and three en­grav­ings on stone walls bear­ing his­toric texts from the re­gion by Jenny Holzer, an Amer­i­can neo­con­cep­tual artist.

And there are price­less pieces. They in­clude a statue of the Sphinx dat­ing back to the 6th cen­tury B.C., 13 frag­ments of a frieze that re­veals Su­rah al Hashr from the Holy Qu­ran, and a mar­ble bust of Alexan­der the Great.

Among the paint­ings is one by Leonardo DaVinci, done be­tween 1495 and 1499 and called La Belle Fer­ronniere, or Por­trait of an Un­known Woman, which was re­cently re­stored and is on loan from the orig­i­nal Musee du Lou­vre in Paris.

Lou­vre Abu Dhabi has part­nered with mu­se­ums and cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions in the Arab world, who will lend 28 sig­nif­i­cant works. Among them are an 8,000-yearold, two-headed fig­ure called the Ain Ghazal statue from Jordan, some 400 sil­ver dirham coins from Oman and a pre- his­toric stone tool from Saudi Ara­bia.

On open­ing day, guided tours wound through the spa­cious gal­leries as Asian and African dance troupes per­formed in the ope­nair sec­tions over­look­ing the sea.

“It is not a copy of the Lou­vre,” said Badria al-Maz­imi, an ar­chi­tec­tural en­gi­neer.

The 26-year-old Emi­rati said she had vis­ited the site when the mu­seum was still un­der con­struc­tion and had ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated the pub­lic open­ing.

“The beau­ti­ful thing is they made it not just one build­ing, but like a lit­tle neigh­bor­hood. When you walk around, you feel like you’re walk­ing in an old Emi­rati quar­ter,” she said, beam­ing as her hus­band stud­ied a Cen­tral Asian stat­uette dat­ing from 1700 B.C.

“To see all these peo­ple from dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties wait­ing in this long line to visit the Lou­vre — it’s some­thing re­ally special,” she said.

“This is what you see when you travel abroad, and now it’s here, in the Emi­rates.”


More than a decade in the mak­ing, a VIP inau­gu­ra­tion was held on Wed­nes­day last week, with French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron among the first vis­i­tors.

The mu­seum de­sign, by France’s Pritzker prize-win­ning ar­chi­tect Jean Nou­vel, con­jures up the im­age of an Arab me­d­ina as seen through the eyes of a con­tem­po­rary cin­e­matog­ra­pher.

A sil­ver- toned dome with per­fo­rated arabesque pat­terns ap­pears to float over the white gal­leries, cre­at­ing what Nou­vel de­scribes as a “rain of light.”

To reach the ground, each ray of light must cross eight lay­ers of per­fo­ra­tions, cre­at­ing a con­stantly shift­ing pat­tern that mim­ics the shad­ows cast by palm trees or the roof of a tra­di­tional Arab mar­ket.

Hav­ing in­vested over $1 bil­lion in the mu­seum, Abu Dhabi is hop­ing cul­ture will at­tract tourists. Two more mu­se­ums, Guggen­heim Abu Dhabi, de­signed by Frank Gehry, and Norman Fos­ter’s Zayed National Mu­seum, are planned around the Lou­vre Abu Dhabi in the Saadiyat Cul­tural Dis­trict that al­ready hosts art fairs, ex­hi­bi­tions and per­for­mances.

“Cul­ture is the el­e­ment that will dis­tin­guish us from oth­ers,” said Saif Saeed Ghobash, di­rec­tor-gen­eral of the emi­rate’s Depart­ment of Cul­ture & Tourism. “We will at­tract a dif­fer­ent kind of trav­eler.”

The en­trance ticket to the mu­seum is 60 dirhams ($16.30) with all 5,000 tick­ets sold out for the open­ing day. —

PEO­PLE ARE seen at the Lou­vre Abu Dhabi in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emi­rates, on Nov. 6 (above). A vis­i­tor takes a photo of an art­work ti­tled Ger­mi­na­tion by Ital­ian artist Giuseppe Penone dur­ing the mu­seum’s of­fi­cial open­ing (right).

EMI­RATI vis­i­tors look at ex­hibits dur­ing the open­ing of the Lou­vre Abu Dhabi Mu­seum on Nov. 11.

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