In its big reveal today, Louvre Abu Dhabi announced that it will open doors on 11 November this year, nearly 10 years after the UAE-France intergovernmental agreement laid the groundwork for the project. What will be the first universal museum of the Arab world shows great curatorial promise with over 600 acquisitions ranging from prehistoric to contemporary artworks and artefacts, with around 300 loans from 13 French museums, including its namesake Musée du Louvre in Paris.
From L to R: His Excellency Saif Saeed Ghobash, Director-General, TCA Abu Dhabi; Jean Nouvel, architect, Ateliers Jean Nouvel; Jean-Luc Martinez, President-director, Musée du Louvre and Chairman of the Scientific Board, Agence France-Muséums; HE Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development; Her Excellency Ms. Françoise Nyssen, the French Minister of Culture; His Excellency Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman, Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority and Tourism Development & Investment Company; His Excellency Ludovic Pouille, French Ambassador; Manuel Rabaté, Director, Louvre Abu Dhabi
Louvre Abu Dhabi’s ‘rain of light’ © Louvre Abu Dhabi, Photography by Mohamed Somji
Speaking to the press at Manarat Al Saadiyat in Abu Dhabi were His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, lauded the countries’ longstanding bilateral relationship, sharing who would make up the museum’s audience. “First and foremost, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will attract its parents, the French and the Emiratis. We are loving parents with a rich history of mutual affection and respect, ours is a genuine friendship,” he said. His Excellency Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, said Louvre Abu Dhabi is a lot more than a museum, referring to it as an “educational centre,” quite like its Parisian counterpart. “Paris is a major beacon of culture around the world. We hope in time the Louvre Abu Dhabi will bring that centre of excellence to Abu Dhabi,” he noted.
HE Sheikh Nahyan echoed Nouvel’s idea, stating the museum was created “to mirror a protected territory that belongs to the Arab world and their geography. The magnificent building itself is a work of art, creation, innovation and magical experience that would invite the global population to enter the Arab world.” Also present at the occasion, Her Excellency Ms Françoise Nyssen, the French Minister of Culture, also said, “This museum is one of the most ambitious cultural projects in the world, brought to light by Nouvel’s exceptional architectural masterpiece.”
Emphasising its global reach, HE Sheikh Nahyan added that the entire population of the UAE and the world at large will be able to revel in what that the museum has to offer – a sweeping display of world cultures. Manuel Rabaté, who was appointed Director of Louvre Abu Dhabi last year, also noted that Louvre Abu Dhabi is “a place where visitors can come to understand their own and others’ cultures.”
Funeral set of princess Henuttawy: cartonnage. Egypt, 2nd half of 10th century BCE-beginning of the 22nd dynast. Wood with polychromy. 163.0 x 38.0 x 31.0 cm. Louvre Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi. © Louvre Abu Dhabi/Thierry Ollivier
The museum’s exquisite 180-metre floating dome structure by Pritzker Prize-winning French architect Jean Nouvel is a visual marvel. “My idea was to create a microclimate, not only from a thematic point of view and in terms of temperature but also in the form of a cultural microclimate,” Nouvel told Bazaar Art. “I wanted to put an umbrella on the neighbourhood and create an Arabian symbol in the context of the Middle East, linking the museum to the geography and history of the region,” he added.
Louvre Abu Dhabi’s exterior © Louvre Abu Dhabi, Photography: Mohamed Somji
“For me, the design is totally linked to the UAE because it caters to their culture. I can’t imagine this building in Paris,” noted Nouvel. His deliciously experimental and futuristic designs, including the spectacular linear glass facade of Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, are all unique in style, and he really pushes the envelope with Louvre Abu Dhabi.
Louvre Abu Dhabi loan selection. La Bella Ferronnière.Leonardo da Vinci. Milan, Italy, 1495-1499. Wood (noyer). Musée du Louvre, Paintings Departement. © Musée du Louvre, C2RMF/T Clot
Nouvel has designed the space like a museum city, with 23 permanent galleries, exhibition spaces, a children’s museum, an auditorium, restaurants, an Optical art-inspired café, and a research centre. He heavily draws on the cultural sensibilities of the UAE for its design; the 8,000 metal stars on the eight-layered dome are set in a web-like geometric pattern, allowing the ‘rain of light’ to filter through, just how sunlight seeps into fronds of palm trees in an oasis. “I wanted to create protection and also play with geometry and light because, for me, great Arabian architecture is always about geometry and light,” he said.
View overlooking the sea © Louvre Abu Dhabi, Photography by Mohamed Somji
He has created a seamless blend of land and sea with his design, the water’s reflective quality that evokes an enchanted aura. He explained how the rays of sunlight seep into the museum creating a dance-like effect, changing in size and appearing and disappearing as the sun rises and sets. “That’s my game, my proposal, my gift for Abu Dhabi.”
The sprawling exhibition space will showcase a wealth of art in its permanent and temporary collections, from medieval to modern. Its permanent collection houses pieces such as the iconic Bactrian Princess from 3rd Millennium BCE and the Funeral set of Princess Henuttawy, a remnant of ancient Egypt dating 10th century BCE, and the Lion Bracelet from Ziwiye, Iranian Azerbaijan, 8th-7th century BCE.
Louvre Abu Dhabi permanent collection. Bactrian "princess". Central Asia, end of 3rd beginning of 2nd millennium BCE. Chlorite (body and headdress), calcite (face). 25.3 x 11.5 x 9.5 cm. Louvre Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi. © Louvre Abu Dhabi / Thierry Ollivier
There’s also a well-rounded collection of loans including the very famous La Belle Ferronnière by Leonardo da Vinci (1495-1499), Vincent Van Gogh’s Self-portrait (1853-1890), and a the much older but wondrous Fountation Spot known as the Monzon Lion from 12-13th century Spain. Among its external comissions are American artist Jenny Holzer’s three engraved stone walls named For Louvre Abu Dhabi (2017), and Italian artist Giuseppe Penone’s tall bronze tree titled Leaves of Light (2017) and a porcelain-tiled wall Propagation (2017).
Louvre Abu Dhabi permanent collection. Osman Hamdy Bey. Istanbul-Turquie, 1842-Istanbul, Turquie, 1910. A Young Emir Studying. Istanbul, 1878. Oil on canvas. 45.5 x 90.0 cm, 73.0 x 118.2 x 13.8 cm. © Louvre Abu Dhabi/Agence Photo F
Watch the preview of Louvre Abu Dhabi
Louvre Abu Dhabi will cost Dhs60 for general admission, Dhs30 for individuals aged between 13 and 22, with free entry for children under 13 years. Special price will be offered to members of the armed forces and students. For more information, visit Louvreabudhabi.ae.