The Louvre Abu Dhabi
Wishing to make their country a top cultural destination, internationally recognized for art, education, and culture, the leaders of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi launched the development of this major, universal art museum, which opened its doors on November 11, 2017. By developing tourism, education, and services, they aim to prepare for the post-oil age. Abu Dhabi called on French expertise to help them successfully bring the Arab world’s first universal museum to life.
An Innovative Project
Intergovernmental agreement: a new partnership
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is the result of an unprecedented initiative that laid the groundwork for a new type of cultural collaboration of unparalleled scope between two countries, centered on the creation of a national institution.
Born out of an intergovernmental agreement signed on March 6, 2007, between the United Arab Emirates and France, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is the first universal museum in the Arab world. The museum brings the Louvre name to Abu Dhabi and presents both ancient and contemporary works of historic, cultural, and sociological interest from around the world.
The agreement involves thirteen French public cultural establishments under the umbrella of Agence France-Muséums:
- The Musée du Louvre,
- The Centre Pompidou,
- The Public Establishment of the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie,
- The Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BnF),
- The Musée du Quai Branly,
- The Réunion des Musées Nationaux – Grand Palais,
- The Musée et Domaine National de Versailles,
- The Musée National des Arts Asiatiques Guimet,
- The Musée d'Archéologie Nationale – Domaine National de Saint-Germain-en-Laye,
- The École du Louvre,
- The Musée Rodin,
- The Domaine National de Chambord,
- The French Operator for Heritage and Cultural Building Projects (Oppic)
Œuvres exposées au Louvre Abu Dhabi
© Louvre Abu Dhabi - Photo Marc Domage
Overview of the collection: a unique museum
The museum is not, in any way, a copy of the French Louvre; it is an individual institution offering its own interpretation of a universal museum, reflecting its era and the local traditions of the country it lies in. Its collection, which includes loans from French institutions (rotated on a ten-year basis), as well as works from its own currently-developing compilation, is presented in an original manner.
Its uniqueness is based on an overarching vision of artistic creation. Museums traditionally organize their collections by school, technique, and materials, and while this approach does highlight the unique characteristics of a series, it does nothing to show the influences, exchanges, and circulation of ideas and know-how. The Louvre Abu Dhabi’s unique exhibition design explores the connections between civilizations and cultures that may, at first, appear to be far separated by time and geography. Visitors are guided through a chronological and theme-based display, traversing different periods and civilizations. The display picks out universal themes and common influences to illustrate the similarities that grow out of a shared human experience, beyond any geographical, historical, or cultural boundaries. The result is a truly universal museum.
An Ambitious Project
Saadiyat Island and the Cultural District
Built on Saadiyat Island (the island of happiness), a natural 27-km² island a third of the size of Paris, the Cultural District houses a number of renowned cultural establishments: the Louvre Abu Dhabi, designed by architect Jean Nouvel; the Zayed National Museum by Norman Foster; and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi by Frank Gehry. The Cultural District is part of a new urban complex just outside the historic Abu Dhabi city center, with housing for 150,000 residents. All of these projects are intended to encourage new artistic expression, inherent to a rapidly growing region. The Louvre Abu Dhabi aims to complement the other Emirati museums and help transform the art and cultural scene in the Middle East.
Louvre Abu Dhabi : projet architectural
© TDIC, AJN, Artefactory, Louvre Abu Dhabi
The Louvre Abu Dhabi: a masterful architectural design
Jean Nouvel, a Pritzker Architecture Prize winner selected to design the museum, was inspired by the special features of the Saadiyat site: a virgin lagoon island, between sand and sea, shade and light. His design offers visitors a high-impact architectural and museum experience that fosters dialogue between cultures. Jean Nouvel wanted his building to have “a form that matches its function as a sanctuary for the most valuable works of art.”
The Louvre Abu Dhabi “museum city” covers nearly 64,000 m², with 6,000 m² devoted to the permanent collection and 2,000 m² for temporary exhibitions.
A dome of 180 meters in diameter (the same size as the Louvre’s Cour Carrée) covers two thirds of the museum, providing shade and reducing energy consumption.
Echoing the mosque, mausoleum, caravanserai, and madrasa, its shape is not bound by any literal inspiration: resting on four points of contact and slightly low-slung, it is the embodiment of a completely contemporary style. Pierced with openings to look like interwoven palm leaves, a traditional roofing material in the Emirates, the dome resembles silver lace. A geometric template of stars repeated in different sizes and at different angles in a complex arrangement forms eight distinct layers, four external and four internal. Sun filters through the dome like a delicate, protective rain of light, similar to a claustra lattice of mashrabiyas, reflecting the constant interplay of light and shadow in the country.
Below, Jean Nouvel has designed a complex of buildings with harmonious proportions, embraced by the sea. Freely inspired by buried cities and the prototypical Oriental city, a large part of the museum complex is sheltered under the comfort of this shadow. This urban and geometric “medina” of rooms appears like a city neighborhood, with some thirty buildings visible along a promenade. Rising up to heights of 4–12 m, they each feature a different façade decorated with a variety of piercings, combining unique transitions and passages. The museum city creates a space that plays with the multiple connections between indoor and outdoor, ever-changing and poetic, to kindle curiosity and invite visitors to explore new routes and pathways, guided by the light.
Inspired by the ancient falaj system of Arab engineering, a water channel runs through the museum, making the space into a refreshing oasis that encourages strolling along the waterside.
So-called “passive” design strategies take advantage of the natural shape of the buildings and the properties of the materials selected to improve outdoor conditions. The museum’s roof is perforated to capture daylight without letting in too much sun; light-reflecting materials in pale colors are used to repel rather than absorb heat; reduced-flow plumbing and water facilities were selected to reduce the building’s demand for drinkable water.
Le songe de Jacob de Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (détail). Louvre Abu Dhabi : Collections
© TDIC, Louvre Abu Dhabi
An all-encompassing collection
The Louvre Abu Dhabi’s collection began with a blank slate and is growing gradually; it comprises ancient and contemporary works from different countries.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi’s ambition is to acquire high-quality works and build up a first-class collection worthy of international recognition. An Acquisitions Committee following the model of the Musée du Louvre’s own committee has been formed. The teams within TCA Abu Dhabi and Agence France-Muséums study proposals and follow acquisition practices. Works are chosen according to the strictest ethical considerations, and their origins are closely scrutinized. The Committee must endorse each acquisition.
These exceptional works include a gold bracelet with lion figures made in Iran nearly 3,000 years ago, an Italian gold and garnet fibula (brooch) from the 5th century BC, a superb Virgin and Child by Bellini, paintings by Jordaens, Caillebotte, Manet, Gauguin, and Magritte, a paper collage by Picasso never seen in the public domain, and nine canvasses by the recently deceased American painter Cy Twombly.
The collection not only includes pieces from the Middle East and the West but also works such as a Soninke/Djennenke figure from Mali, a dancing Shiva from India, and an octagonal box from China, all bringing influence from other geographical regions.
The collection is multidisciplinary and spans every medium: in addition to painting, sculpture, tapestry, goldwork, paper collage, etc., the Louvre Abu Dhabi also features a photography collection and works from the decorative arts, such as a decanter by Christopher Dresser (Glasgow, 1834–Mulhouse, 1904).
A museum at the crossroads of civilizations
The Louvre Abu Dhabi sets out to be the focal point of a dialogue between civilizations and cultures, symbolically continuing the age-old history of the Arabian Peninsula as a land of convergence and exchange. It is essential for it to convey this spirit of openness and intercultural dialogue.
Abu Dhabi’s ambition is to create a platform for education and culture. The museum is located just a few hours from India, in the heart of the Middle East, in a capital of the modern world; it is truly at the crossroads of civilizations. Its own permanent collection is being developed for residents as well as regional and international visitors to admire: a national art collection with something for everyone.
In the very first article of the intergovernmental agreement, the Louvre Abu Dhabi states its ambition to become a place that “fosters dialogue between East and West.” This dialogue, embodied by the relationships between works of art, sculptures, and objects, invites visitors to explore shared influences and surprising connections between different cultures around the world.
A Global Project
Having opened its doors in 2017, the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s ambition is to continue to build its own collection and eventually become an independent player on the world museum scene. It draws on French expertise and was built and continues to develop based on a true skill-transfer approach.
Louvre Abu Dhabi staff training
The intergovernmental agreement called on the French side, under the umbrella of Agence France-Muséums, to provide training and teaching support to staff with specific qualifications, including professionals in direct contact with the works (curators, documentary researchers, conservators and preventive conservation experts, artwork registrars, cultural interpretation officers, and security and surveillance staff). The issues facing each field of expertise were discussed regularly between professionals. Multiple Emiratis were hosted for internships at the various French museums and institutions involved in the project.
In cooperation with the curatorial team of the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum, Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi and the École du Louvre offer a professional Master’s degree in History of Art and Museum Studies. With the Louvre Abu Dhabi being only one of several museum projects in the UAE, there will be a need in the coming years for qualified staff trained in art history and museum professions, in order to maintain the scientific and intellectual quality of these establishments. This unique context, with its specific requirements, was the reason the professional Master’s was created.
The Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi campus is located on Al Reem Island. Fifteen minutes outside the city center, it is named Paris-Sorbonne after the international partnership agreement signed in 2006 with one of the world’s oldest (more than 7 centuries) and most prestigious universities, the Sorbonne. Its programs in the humanities and social sciences are identical to those offered by Paris-Sorbonne University (Paris IV). In addition, the university works with Paris-Descartes to offer law and economics studies. Classes are taught by Paris-Sorbonne and Paris-Descartes professors, under the same high standards as in Paris. The diplomas are delivered from Paris and are internationally recognized.
Knowledge transfer and museum interpretation, the core of the Louvre Abu Dhabi project
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is an ambitious project with an identity rooted in exploration and encounters, and thus in education.
Along with the Louvre Abu Dhabi itself, a varied cultural offering was created for audiences of all origins and ages, with a variety of interests, in the run-up to the museum’s opening. The Louvre Abu Dhabi: Talking Art Series, for instance, went on for several years, and explored the meaning of particular works of art within the context of art history and the museum’s growing collection. These talks, organized by TCA Abu Dhabi, Agence France-Muséums, and the École du Louvre, offered audiences a glimpse of the collection and the museum’s approach ahead of the official opening.
Workshops for families continue to make the museum more accessible to children, inviting participants to create their own works inspired by the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s acquisitions. The aim is thus to create a connection with the public and familiarize them with its collection.
The Louvre is open every day (except Tuesday) from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Free admission on the first Saturday of each month
from 6 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. as of January 2019.