ABU DHABI // Thirty visitors jostled into the exhibition space, eager to get a first glimpse of the art and architecture of the Abu Dhabi Louvre. First came a film detailing the building on Saadiyat Island, whose roof weaves together an Islamic pattern of eight- and 16-pointed stars. Pillars of light spear down into the gallery, where they sparkle on the surfaces of small reflective pools. And then: the art.
The first room contains antiquities, from a pristine, ancient Greek vase to a 5th-century Roman brooch made of gold and garnet. With sculptures of Buddha and Jesus, and a beautifully inscribed Mameluke Quran, many of the world's major religions and cultures are on display. The French rococo artist Jean-François de Troy then led the group through the works of Spanish romantics and several pieces by Manet to an oil painting by Cézanne and an uncomfortable-looking wooden Zambian pillow.
"I love the roof and the way the light pools down and the use of the water inside," said Clare Dedic, one of yesterday's visitors, an Austrian who lives in Abu Dhabi. "It's fantastic that they've mixed together so many cultures." The exhibition at the Emirates Palace hotel is a "preparation and introduction" for what will be on show when the project is completed in 2013, museum officials said. Designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel, the building draws heavily on Arab architectural forms. The 29 works of art displayed at the preview aim to give the public a sense of the museum's universal spirit.
For Ilka Schacht, 40, an archaeologist, the exhibition aroused curiosity about how the works would be displayed at the completed Abu Dhabi Louvre. "I'm particularly interested in the antiquities and I think it's a really good range of objects," she said. "It will be interesting to see how they integrate them at the Louvre itself." Some felt that there should be more works from the Middle East. "I would prefer it if they'd brought something more from this region," said Tary Majibi, 48, an Iranian-Canadian artist.
Noting that Iran is just across the Gulf, he added: "There's nothing from Persia and there's not much from the region." The Korean national Young-Jeh Oh agreed that there could have been more pieces from nearby countries. "I was expecting much more, but you do get a taste of it," she said. "In any case, it's just wonderful to see all that art out here in the desert." Antonella Antonioni, 48, an art teacher, said that there was too much of a "French imprint" on the exhibition, and that it lacked cohesiveness.
"I'm not sure why they chose the pieces or what the overall concept behind the collection is," she said. But others came away impressed. David Cox, a British national, took time off work to be among the first to see the artwork destined for the new gallery. "The pieces are stunning," he said. The public tour, which is fully booked until Saturday, lasts about an hour. Admission is free. firstname.lastname@example.org