By: Tal Peer
The much-anticipated Louvre Abu Dhabi will open to the public on Saturday, November 11, with a spectacular week-long series of celebrations. It is the first museum of its kind in the Arab region and offers a new perspective on the history of art in a globalized world.
An iconic architectural masterpiece designed by Jean Nouvel, it is located on the waterfront in Abu Dhabi’s cultural district on Saadiyat Island. The inaugural installation in its spacious collection galleries will present 600 works of art, half from its own rich holdings, and half consisting of stellar works visiting from its 13 partner museums in France. The museum will also begin an ongoing programme of special exhibitions in December.
Louvre Abu Dhabi is the result of a unique collaboration between Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and France.
The museum’s collection spans the history of humanity and will explore a universal narrative through artworks and artifacts from all over the world. The inaugural installation will take visitors on a chronological journey from prehistory to the present day, encompassing 12 chapters including the birth of the first villages; universal religions; cosmography; the magnificence of the royal court; and the modern world.
His Excellency Mohamed Al Mubarak, Chairman of the Department of Culture & Tourism and the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), said: “The UAE is proud of our rich heritage, while also embracing progress and change. We are a dynamic, vibrant and multicultural society, where people live in harmony and tolerance. This diversity is reflected in Louvre Abu Dhabi’s collection, which celebrates the innate human fascination with discovery. Each visitor will encounter extraordinary artworks and artifacts from global cultures that are both familiar and surprising. Louvre Abu Dhabi is the UAE’s gift to the world, and we look forward to welcoming our first visitors.”
Manuel Rabaté, Director of Louvre Abu Dhabi, said: “Louvre Abu Dhabi sets a benchmark for the region, attracting the next generation of talented museum professionals. It has reinvented the 18th-century premise of the universal museum for a demanding contemporary audience. In a complex multi-narrative world, these ideas are more important than ever. By exhibiting works from diverse cultures in the same space, our curation shows the interconnectedness of different ideologies, aesthetics and artistic techniques. The museum story transports visitors through a history of humanity illuminated by our collection of exceptional treasures.”
Commenting on behalf of musée du Louvre, Jean-Luc Martinez, President-Director of musée du Louvre and Chairman of the Scientific Board of Agence France-Muséums, said: “Today is the inauguration of Louvre Abu Dhabi; a museum like no other, which could be considered as the most ambitious cultural project of the early 21st century. It carries a message of openness, which is critical for our era. This incredible project was conceived in the Emirates and carried out as an inspiring partnership. Today, we are proud that expertise was given by French museums, and the extraordinary artworks that have been gathered together, contribute to the achievement of this museum, which will amaze the world and make its mark in the history of museums.”
Architect Jean Nouvel has designed Louvre Abu Dhabi as a museum city (medina) which combines traditional Arabic inspiration with contemporary design and cutting-edge energy-efficient engineering. Visitors can walk along promenades overlooking the sea underneath the iconic dome, comprised of 7,850 unique metal stars set in a complex geometric pattern. When sunlight filters through, it creates a moving ‘rain of light’, reminiscent of the overlapping palm trees in the UAE’s oases.
Jean Nouvel, the architect of Louvre Abu Dhabi, said: “Louvre Abu Dhabi embodies an exceptional programme in the literal sense of the word. Its location is now to express what is universal throughout the ages. Its architecture makes it a place of convergence and correlation between the immense sky, the sea-horizon and the territory of the desert. Its dome and cupola imprint space with the consciousness of time and of the moment through an evocative light of a spirituality that is its own.”
Presented across 6,400 square meters of galleries, the museum’s growing collection includes more than 600 important artworks and artifacts, approximately half of which will be presented for the opening year. It includes ancient archaeological finds, decorative arts, neoclassical sculptures, paintings by modern masters and contemporary installations.
Jean-François Charnier, Scientific Director of Agence France-Muséums, said: “At Louvre Abu Dhabi, works of art provide the most eloquent testimony of the course of time, enabling its visitors to look back over the ages that have fashioned the world in which they live. Encounters with artifacts of different cultures give rise to emotions and questions, making this universal museum the ideal place to embark on a global history of humanity.”
Ancient masterpieces from the collection include a Bactrian Princess created in Central Asia at the end of the 3rd millennium BCE, a Grecian sphinx from the 6th century BCE and an Iranian gold bracelet in the shape of a lion. Visitors encounter works from universal religions, including sacred texts such as a Leaf from the “Blue Quran” and a Gothic Bible, as well as a Standing Bodhisattva from the 2nd or 3rd century and a white marble Head of Buddha from China.
Highlights from later periods include an ancient astrolabe, part of a display showing the science of cosmography; a red Chinese lacquer chest of drawers produced in France by Bernard II van Risenburgh, which shows the cross-cultural inspirations born from global trade routes; and Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna and Child, representing the emergence of religious art and iconography.
Works such as a Bronze Oba head from the Benin Kingdom and Jacob Jordaens’ The Good Samaritan demonstrate the magnificence of royal courts around the world.
A series of iconic paintings captures the emergence of the modern world, including Gustave Caillebotte’s Game of Bezique, Edouard Manet’s The Gypsy, Paul Gauguin’s Children Wrestling, Osman Hamdi Bey’s A Young Emir Studying, Piet Mondrian’s Composition with Blue, Red, Yellow and Black, René Magritte’s The Subjugated Reader and Pablo Picasso’s Portrait of a Lady.
The museum’s contemporary art collection has nine canvases by Cy Twombly and a monumental sculpture by renowned international artist Ai Weiwei. As part of an ongoing programme of commissions, Jenny Holzer and Giuseppe Penone have created monumental site-specific installations, exhibited under the dome in the open air and embedded in Louvre Abu Dhabi’s architecture.
Sharing art and expertise
As part of the intergovernmental agreement between the UAE and France, Louvre Abu Dhabi has access to expertise and training from 17 French partner institutions. It will also benefit from the ability to borrow works of art from 13 leading French museums for 10 years, and from special exhibitions organized by these institutions for 15 years.
Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière, Chairman of Agence France-Muséums, said: “What more stimulating challenge could there be for the French museums and cultural institutions than to invent, in partnership with Louvre Abu Dhabi, a museum entirely unlike any other in existence? Committed all together, they remind us with Louvre Abu Dhabi that culture and education remain invaluable foundations that this museum, now open to one and all, embodies in so many ways.”
At opening, 300 works from French partner museums are on display. Some highlights include Leonardo da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronnière (musée du Louvre); Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait (musée d'Orsay et de l'Orangerie); a rare ivory saltcellar from the Benin Empire (musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac); a Globe by Vincenzo Coronelli (Bibliothèque nationale de France); a pair of gui vessels (musée national des arts asiatiques Guimet); Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps (Château de Versailles); Auguste Rodin’s Jean d’Aire from the group The Burghers of Calais (musée Rodin); a 13th-century reliquary chest (musée de Cluny - musée national du Moyen Âge); a Chinese ewer of Persian shape (musée des Arts Décoratifs); a breastplate from Marmesse (musée d'archéologie nationale - Saint Germain en Laye); the sculpture Apollo Belvedere by Primatice (Château de Fontainebleau); and Standing Woman II by Alberto Giacometti (Centre Pompidou).
Additional works from regional and UAE institutions will be on view at Louvre Abu Dhabi at the time of the opening. The National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah provides key objects including a pendant dating back to 2000-1800 BCE and a painted Neolithic vase, discovered on the 8000-year-old settlement on Marawah Island off the coast of Abu Dhabi. Al Ain National Museum lends an important fragment of stucco from an ancient church in Abu Dhabi’s Sir Bani Yas Island.
Highlights of objects borrowed from within the region include a prehistoric stone tool dating back to 350,000 BCE, a milestone indicating the distance from Mecca in Kufic inscriptions and a funerary stele dating back to 700–900 CE from the Saudi Commission for Tourism & National Heritage; a collection of over 400 silver Dirham coins from the National Museum – Sultanate of Oman; and an 8000-year-old, two-headed figure from Jordan’s Department of Antiquities called the Ain Ghazal Statue.
The museum’s doors will open to the public alongside an exciting programme of multicultural music, arts and dance performances, workshops and, on November 11, Museum Reflections (Vives Réflexions) – a spectacular light show and firework display by world-renowned Groupe F. Running from November 11 – 14, this opening week programme was curated by Louvre Abu Dhabi in collaboration with Agence France-Muséums and Arwad Esber, Artistic and Programming Advisor.
Special ticketed headline acts during opening week include a sold-out show by French singer and rock guitarist Matthieu Chedid, known as –M– (November 11); mesmerising Malian performer Fatoumata Diawara (November 12); Lebanese jazz and world musician Ibrahim Maalouf (November 13); and the magnificent singer and dancer Totó La Momposina (November 14), whose performances are inspired by Colombian-Caribbean traditions. Admission tickets are now available for purchase online. Space is limited; to purchase tickets, please visit www.louvreabudhabi.ae.
The Children’s Museum at Louvre Abu Dhabi will also open to the public. This is an exploratory space providing the opportunity to engage with artworks from Louvre Abu Dhabi’s collection to young visitors (aged 6-12) and their families. It presents its own special exhibitions, with artworks displayed in specially designed cases at children’s eye level and interactive mediation tools. With a range of immersive and interactive zones, the Children’s Museum offers a programme of hands-on activities and educational workshops.
The inaugural exhibition in the Children’s Museum is titled Travelling Shapes and Colours. It explores shapes and colours, such as floral and geometric ornamentation, through a selection of works from artistic traditions across the globe, including 16th-century Turkish ceramics, 18th-century decorative French vases and a 19th-century painting by German artist Paul Klee.
Louvre Abu Dhabi has worked in close collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge, schools and universities in the UAE to develop educational materials and initiatives for students of all ages. During the opening week, it will launch an educational portfolio for teachers from primary to secondary levels. Over the past three years, Louvre Abu Dhabi has worked with a number of Emirati students through its Student Ambassador Programme, which trains and empowers young Emiratis to become skilled ambassadors for the project among their communities.
In a collaborative effort running since 2009, Louvre Abu Dhabi and other Saadiyat Cultural District museums have organised a variety of programmes to engage and develop audiences with a wide range of backgrounds, interests and ages. To date, Louvre Abu Dhabi has presented a series of exhibitions including Talking Art (Abu Dhabi, 2009) and Birth of a Museum (Abu Dhabi, 2013 and Paris, 2014). The museum has staged more than 50 talks, such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi Talking Art Series, and run more than 80 workshops for families and young people. These explored the ideas behind the museum’s vision, highlighted significant works and offered opportunities to test the visitor experience and showcase the collections in anticipation of the opening.
The inaugural special exhibition, From One Louvre to Another: Opening a Museum for Everyone, opens on 21 December 2017. It traces the history of musée du Louvre in Paris in the 18th century. Divided into three sections, the exhibition will look at the royal collections at Versailles under King Louis XIV; the residency of the Academy and Salons in the Louvre, converted into a palace for artists; and the eventual creation of the musée du Louvre. The exhibition will feature approximately 150 significant paintings, sculptures, decorative arts and other pieces, mainly from the collections of musée du Louvre, but also from the Château de Versailles.
The exhibition is curated by Jean-Luc Martinez, President-Director, musée du Louvre, and Juliette Trey, Curator, Prints and Drawings Department, musée du Louvre.
In addition to its 23 permanent galleries, special exhibition space and Children’s Museum, Louvre Abu Dhabi features a 270-seat auditorium, restaurant, boutique and café.
Opening hours for the museum galleries and exhibitions are: Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday: 10 am - 8 pm; Thursday and Friday: 10 am - 10 pm. Last entry and purchase of tickets is 30 minutes prior to closing. The museum is closed on Mondays.
Tickets to the museum cost 60 AED for general admission and 30 AED for visitors aged 13–22, as well as UAE education professionals.
Free entry will apply to children under 13 years, ICOM or ICOMOS members, journalists and visitors with special needs as well as their companion.
Louvre Abu Dhabi’s Art Club membership programme offers a range of exciting benefits and discounts as well as the chance to become part of the museum’s vibrant cultural community.
Louvre Abu Dhabi offers a variety of guided walking tours and an audio tour through which visitors can explore the museum’s collection. Thematic walking tours are available on the museum’s masterpieces and architecture; there is also a child-friendly tour entitled A First Look at Louvre Abu Dhabi. The audio tour of the museum is offered in Arabic, English, French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Russian and Spanish. To purchase admission tickets and tours, please visit www.louvreabudhabi.ae.