Watch: First look at one of the Louvre Abu Dhabi's contemporary commissions
When the Louvre Abu Dhabi opens its doors next week, visitors admiring architect Jean Nouvel’s much-vaunted Rain of Light canopy will be also drawn to the simple and unexpected form of a tree reaching up towards the light.
Leaves of Light is an extraordinarily life-like bronze sculpture by the veteran Italian artist Guiseppe Penone.
Cast in bronze from a wild service tree, Sorbus terminalis, the artwork is a symbol of life that takes its inspiration from the light cast by the museum's canopy and from the artist’s native Maritime Alps in Piedmont, near Turin.
Selected by Penone from the woodlands near his home, the tree had to be cut into sections 1.5-metres-long before it could be cast in bronze using the traditional lost wax method and then reassembled.
Penone, who rose to fame in the late 1960s as the youngest member of the Arte Povera movement, has created a three-part installation, Germination, which addresses the relationships between humanity, art and the natural world, themes that the 69-year-old sculptor has examined throughout his career.
“The artworks that I have developed for Louvre Abu Dhabi aim to inscribe themselves in the place, underscoring aspects of its architectural form and content,” Penone told The National in November last year. “The pieces that make up Germination echo the museum’s universal spirit.”
Curated by the American neo-conceptualist artist Jenny Holzer, several engraved stone walls containing extracts from historical texts will also share the limelight with Penone's Leaves.
The panels feature three historic texts: a reproduction of an ancient Mesopotamian cuneiform tablet that bears a Sumerian-Akkadian creation myth; a quote from the French Renaissance philosopher and essayist Michel de Montaigne; and a passage from the medieval Islamic polymath Ibn Khaldun’s 14th-century Muqaddimah.
“In line with Louvre Abu Dhabi’s ambition to reflect the universal nature of art-making, we have commissioned contemporary works by the internationally renowned artists,” Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi), said in a statement when the installations were announced last year.
“The artists’ works are inspired by the museum’s iconic architecture and diverse stories, and play an important role in connecting the cultures and civilisations of our past with the relevant ongoing conversations and artistic practices of today.”
As well as Penone's Leaves of Light, the artist has also created a wall-mounted sculpture made from different types of clay selected from all over the world, which have been mounted on a steel panel to form the shape of a vase.
For Penone, each piece of clay is formed as a result of the simplest and most universal of gestures, the cupping of hands, that not only allows a person to drink, but also represents the very beginnings of human creativity and of sculpture.
The third part of Germination consists of a porcelain disk which bears the fingerprint of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding President of the UAE, at its centre and which generates a series of concentric circles, all drawn by hand and with millimetre accuracy, that radiate outwards from it like the rings of a tree or the ripples on a pond.
Discussing the work, Penone said that he hoped that it would echo the impact of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, likening the central fingerprint to the museum's dome, and the lines drawn on the porcelain to the influence the museum will have on Abu Dhabi, the UAE and the wider region.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi opens to the public on November 11. You can read our preview of the new museum on Tuesday, November 7.