Its economy is growing rapidly, but the UAE also gains a huge cultural player this week: Louvre Abu Dhabi, which opens its doors on Saturday. The export of the landmark Parisian museum to the Saadiyat Island of Abu Dhabi couldn’t be more significant for a nation that constantly faces criticism for intolerance to western ideals and modern beliefs. The opening sends a clear message: the country is changing – and wants the world to know it.
After 10 years and £3 billion (it’s the most expensive gallery ever built), French architect Jean Nouvel has created a vast silver dome – a symbol of spirituality – out of 8,000 metal stars, which reflect a moving “rain of light” when the sun filters through. Indeed, the museum aims to “tell the story of humanity in a new light” through 12 different galleries housing works ranging from ancient objects to contemporary art, across mediums including sculpture, painting, installation and video. On loan from 13 French art houses, visitors can expect timeless classics including Leonardo da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronnière, a self-portrait by Vincent van Gogh and Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps, as well as Rodin’s Jean d’Aire.
Critics have not shied away from asking if a country that still airbrushes women out of newspapers can be an ambassador for an art collection that thrives on diversity. But referring to the museum as a catalyst of creativity, organisers are confident that it will nurture a globally aware and open-minded generation.
Chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism, Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, commented: “Louvre Abu Dhabi forms one element of Abu Dhabi’s cultural strategy, which safeguards our rich heritage and catalyses creativity. Investment in a vibrant cultural ecosystem supports the UAE’s economic diversification and development as a modern, dynamic society. Louvre Abu Dhabi will inspire a new generation of cultural leaders and creative thinkers to contribute to our rapidly changing and tolerant nation”.
From the opening this week, the institution will have 30 years to prove its mission – that’s how long Paris has lent its Abu Dhabi sibling its name. Watch this space.
The inaugural exhibition, “From One Louvre to Another: opening a museum for everyone”, launches on 21 December, and traces the history of Musée du Louvre in Paris with 145 significant paintings.