Sep 07 2017

Louvre Abu Dhabi to Open in November

by Ysabelle Cheung

It has been announced that Louvre Abu Dhabi will open its doors to the public on November 11, 2017. Photo by Mohamed Somji. Courtesy Louvre Abu Dhabi. 

After years of delays and anticipation, Louvre Abu Dhabi has finally announced it will open its doors on November 11. Moored just 500 meters off the coast of Abu Dhabi in Saadiyat Island, the Jean Nouvel-designed institution is an homage to medina (city), comprising 23 permanent exhibition galleries which will showcase over 900 classical and contemporary acquisitions and loans displayed as a homogenous historical narrative, as well as additional special exhibition galleries, a children’s museum, an auditorium, restaurants, retail space and a research centre. As visitors walk toward the domed, silvery hulk of the satellite outpost of the 224-year-old Musée du Louvre, Paris, they will pass new outdoor commissions by artists including Jenny Holzer and Giuseppe Penone. Additionally, a wall of porcelain squares referencing the fingerprint of the United Arab Emirates’s founding father, Sheikh Zayed, will be featured.

An official press release issued by the multiple organizations involved in the birth of the site—including Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) and Agence France-Muséums, a conglomerate of 13 French institutions such as the Center Georges Pompidou—states that the opening will be a celebration of an intergovernmental agreement signed ten years ago, between the UAE and France. Jean-Luc Martinez, President-director of the Louvre museum and Chairman of the scientific Board of Agence France-Muséums, said: “This joint announcement honors the completion of a magnificent project with which the Louvre is proud to have associated its name and to claim the spirit of it: the creation of the first universal museum in the Arab World.” Adding to that, Mohamed Khalifa al-Mubarak, chairman of TCA Abu Dhabi and Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) suggested that: “Louvre Abu Dhabi embodies our belief that nations thrive on diversity and acceptance, with a curatorial narrative that emphasizes how interconnected the world has always been. . . Louvre Abu Dhabi will inspire a new generation of cultural leaders and creative thinkers to contribute to our rapidly-changing and tolerant nation.”

View of the exterior of Louvre Abu Dhabi at night. Photo by Mohamed Somji. Courtesy Louvre Abu Dhabi.

The collaboration has not been without setbacks, however. Louvre Abu Dhabi was originally due to open in 2012, then was pushed back to 2016, and now 2017. Critics had lambasted the deal after hearing that a staggering USD 1.3 billion was exchanged in 2007 for the association of the Louvre’s name, and those in the region were confused about whether the institution would simply be a French export, or a true attempt to harness the spirit of Emirati arts and culture. Another concern, surrounding the replication of the seamless administrative flow in a world-class museum, was addressed in 2012 by Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoun al-Nahyan, then-chairman of the TCA Abu Dhabi, who implored in a three-page letter to then-president of the Musée du Louvre, Henri Loyrette, to send more knowledgeable staff for training. As the years passed, skepticism in the project only seemed to grow, even after the appointments of inaugural director, museum veteran Manuel Rabaté, and deputy director, academic and Emirati arts figure Hissa al-Dhaheri, in 2016. 

A large portion of Saadiyat Island is set to be the site of the region’s most ambitious arts and culture project, with additional institutions including the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Zayed National Museum still under construction. With the opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi and its first exhibition “From One Louvre to Another: Opening a Museum for Everyone”—which will feature approximately 145 paintings, sculptures and objects from the collections of Musée du Louvre and Château de Versailles in France—to debut on December 21, the organizing body of the Saadiyat Cultural District hopes to enrich the cultural experiences of those in the region as well as strengthen ties with those abroad.

Ysabelle Cheung is managing editor at ArtAsiaPacific.

To read more articles by ArtAsiaPacific, visit our Digital Library.