What matters isn't how many people show up on the first few days, writes Deborah Lindsay Williams, but how many return
Louvre Abu Dhabi will bring art into our everyday lives
“Let’s make sure my favourite sword is there,” my son used to say, every time we walked into New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. As a child of five (and then six, seven and eight), he was sword-obsessed and although most people probably don’t think “swords” when they think about the Met, he did. And truth be told, he’s got a good eye. The favourite sword is an 18th century ceremonial sabre with a jade and emerald handle and a blade inlaid with diamonds that spell out “God’s will” in Arabic.
In order to pry him away from the weaponry, I kept bite-size chocolate bribes in my bag, which I used to lead him from the armour, past the Egyptian galleries, and into whatever exhibit I wanted to see. My gallery experiences lasted as long as my stock of chocolate.
One of the few non-armour exhibits that made an impression on my son’s smaller self was a photograph of the Met when it was brand new: a single building standing alone on a patch of weathered grass. “That’s this?” he asked, waving his hand at the crowds and vast galleries of the present-day museum. I told him that in 1870, New Yorkers thought it was crazy to build a museum so far uptown it was practically in the cornfields and that many people thought Americans weren’t ready for an art museum.
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Now, of course, the tourist buses line up for blocks along Fifth Avenue, waiting for their passengers to return from their art-gazing. On our most recent trip to New York, as we went up the entrance stairs, I turned to my son, now 13, and said: “Aren’t we lucky?”.
He rolled his eyes before I could finish my sentence. “I know, I know, yes, I’m lucky that I grew up here and could come to the museum whenever I wanted.”
He may have been exasperated by my comment, but he nevertheless came with me. We didn’t even glance at the favourite sword but went directly to a Robert Rauschenberg exhibit. The only holdover from our visits in his younger days was a mandatory post-art soft-serve from the Mr Softee ice-cream truck that’s always parked across the street from the museum.
In the excitement of the days before Louvre Abu Dhabi opened on Saturday, I’ve been remembering those years of chocolate-fuelled museum trips. I wish I could tell you that these excursions have resulted in teenagers with a passion for Greek sculpture or photography, but that’s not the case.
Passion did not prompt me to take those expeditions to the Met, however. It was my desire to plant the seed of an art habit. I wanted them to know that art - thinking about it, making it, learning about it - can be as much a part of life as going to the movies or to a restaurant.
True, seeing the newest Star Wars movie will always trump looking at art, but even so, our time in New York (or any other city) always involves spending time looking at art. On our last visit, we learned that Frank Lloyd Wright initially proposed a design for his spiral Guggenheim museum in which the building’s exterior was shocking pink. We all decided it was a shame that the city went with the safer choice of white stone.
That’s why having the Louvre Abu Dhabi open is so exciting: not only does it create energy about the art scene already percolating in the Emirates but it also offers us an opportunity to bring art into our daily lives.
What matters, ultimately, isn’t how many people show up during the glamorous opening week. What matters is how many people pay a return visit next week, next month, or next year. What matters is that “going to the museum” becomes a regular occurrence, an ongoing exploration of the collections in order to see new things and revisit old favourites.
Luckily, for the parents among us, the collection houses a jade-handled sabre. Now we just need a Mr Softee truck in the vicinity.