x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Historian admits defeat in art battle

A leading French art historian has admitted the battle to stop works from moving to Abu Dhabi from the Louvre has been lost.

ABU DHABI // A leading French art historian has admitted the battle to stop works from moving to Abu Dhabi from the Louvre has been lost. Didier Rykner, who has led objections to the scheme, said it was too late to reverse the decision but reiterated the French art world's opposition to the deal. While he was not against new branches of French museums opening, he felt the move was "motivated purely by politics and finance" on the French government's behalf, he said.

A US$1.5 billion (Dh5.5bn), 30-year deal to create an Abu Dhabi Louvre was made in January last year, with works from the French museum to be sent to the new branch by the time it opens on Saadiyat Island in 2013. While the move was welcomed in the UAE, it was criticised in France. Among the most vocal critics was Mr Rykner, who edits the online art journal La Tribune de l'Art. "It is perfectly legitimate for Abu Dhabi to create a museum of ancient art," he said. "And that the Louvre helps them to build such a museum - why not? Once it is complete, of course it is acceptable for the Louvre to lend - and not rent out - works for exhibitions. What is unforgivable ... is the renting out of works that should be lent - and for a long time, not just for maybe three months.

"This will deprive visitors to the [Paris] Louvre, whether French or tourists, of major works over a long time. No less unforgivable is the fact that French curators, working for a French government agency, are going to help establish the collection of a foreign museum, which has never been done elsewhere. The role of curators ... is to enrich French heritage, so the fact they will be employed by a foreign museum is a clear contradiction."

An online petition championed by Mr Rykner gathered more than 5,100 signatures, with many art historians, museum curators and lecturers objecting to the deal. Mr Rykner said he would continue to oppose the move. "Of course it is now too late to stop this happening," he said. "The petition was started a year ago, an agreement has now been signed and there is nothing we can do. However, I intend looking very closely at how this will happen, which works will be sent, which will be bought, and whether regional museums will be forced to send their works to Abu Dhabi against their will. I will remain vigilant."

A motion signed by 39 of the Louvre curators in February last year called on France's minister of culture to reverse the deal struck with Abu Dhabi. In January of last year, Michel Laclotte, the first director of the Louvre between 1987 and 1995, said works in storage at the museum, which are either second-rate or in poor state of repair, would not be able to travel to Abu Dhabi. Instead, he said, pieces from the reserve collection of 6,000 works, which are lent by the Louvre to museums around France, would probably be sent to the UAE.

"From now on, those works will be absent from our museums," he said. "We will end up seriously disappointing the visitor, who is deprived of the major pieces." Last month, Henri Loyrette, president and director general of the Louvre, acknowledged there had been considerable unrest about the Abu Dhabi deal. He said the new museum would have an Eastern feel. Staff would be hired specifically for the new museum, and not necessarily moved from the Louvre.

The Louvre did not answer requests for a response to Mr Rykner's comments. @Email:rhughes@thenational.ae