x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 13 December 2017

Louvre Abu Dhabi: landmark museum is ready to open after ten-year journey

Louvre Abu Dhabi opens to the public on November 11

After ten years, Louvre Abu Dhabi is finally ready to open.

And a special preview has offered a glimpse of the riches that await visitors on November 11.

“The first applause has to be for this beautiful building,” said Mohammed Al Mubarak, chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi. “We have accomplished history."

Saturday's opening marks the culmination of a decade-long journey for the UAE and France and a week-long series of events will take place to celebrate its launch. Designed by acclaimed architect Jean Nouvel, the museum is located by the water on Saadiyat Island.

The centrepiece is its silver dome creating a spectacular "rain of light" effect that mimics an oasis.

Underneath sits a medina-like complex of 55 buildings along narrow streets including gallery rooms, a cafe, children's museum, auditorium and more.

Mr Nouvel on Tuesday described this mini-city as a type of Arabian agora that will encourage talk, debate and reflection.

"A museum must have roots," he said. "It must translate and define the culture of a country."

Twenty-three of these buildings are gallery spaces and a walk through the artworks and artefacts that will greet visitors from Saturday reveals the scope and awesome ambition of the French and Emirati curators.

Attending the previews of Louvre Abu Dhabi along with Mr Al Mubarak and Mr Nouvel were director of Louvre Abu Dhabi, Manuel Rabaté; scientific director of Agence France-Muséums, Jean François Charnier; president-director of the Louvre Museum, Jean-Luc Martinez; Louvre Abu Dhabi deputy director, Hissa Al Dhaheri; and Saif Saeed Ghobash, director general of the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi.

They were joined by curators, officials and hundreds of representatives from the world's media. And around this museum city, an army of painters, cleaners and construction workers put the finishing touches to the building before it opens to the public.

“This museum is a message. A message that will be broadcasted loudly and echoed throughout the world. It’s a message of togetherness. A message of oneness. A message of culture,” said Mr Al Mubarak.

Mohammed Al Mubarak, chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, said Abu Dhabi has "accomplished history". Christopher Pike / The National
Mohammed Al Mubarak, chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, said Abu Dhabi has "accomplished history". Christopher Pike / The National

The museum’s permanent collection includes 620 works from archaeological finds to paintings by modern masters. On Saturday, 235 works from this collection will be on display along with 300 works on loan from 13 French museums. Many of these have never been exhibited in Abu Dhabi before.

The artistic narrative is organised into 12 chapters from “The First Villages”, which looks at the formation of the first settled communities up to “A Global Stage”, which examines how interconnected the world has become. Visitors will be able to view incredible pieces such as a self portrait by Vincent Van Gogh, "Children Wrestling" by Paul Gauguin; and "La Belle Ferronnière" by Leonardo da Vinci.

“On a personal level it’s about pride and joy and excitement,” Mr Rabaté told The National.

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“But more collectively it’s the end of a long adventure and the beginning of a new phase. On November 11, we will have our first guests and then we become a real museum.”

Louvre Abu Dhabi is the first universal museum in the Arab world. And it is by no means a mere outpost of the French Louvre in Abu Dhabi. It has its own Emirati identity and is firmly connected in the region. For Mr Rabaté, the museum is not just a collection of masterpieces but is a universal metaphor for cross-cultural dialogue.

“It’s an Emirati museum, which has a partnership with France. It’s definitely a museum rooted here. We tell a story and we put it in a chronological order: what is happening in China; what is happening here in the UAE; what is happening in Europe. We are offering keys of understanding.”

Architect Jean Nouvel speaks during the open media day ahead of the official opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi on Saturday. Christopher Pike / The National
Architect Jean Nouvel speaks during the open media day ahead of the official opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi on Saturday. Christopher Pike / The National

About two thirds of Louvre Abu Dhabi's staff are Emirati, working as curators, conservators, educational specialists and more. Ms Dhaheri, on Tuesday said the building, museum and collection would not have worked anywhere else in the world. "Today is a beginning," she said. "Louvre Abu Dhabi will encourage more young people in the region to explore careers in culture and creative industries."

Light shows, workshops, concerts and guided tours will also take place to celebrate Louvre Abu Dhabi's opening. World music stars Matthieu Chedid, aka -M-, Fatoumata Diawara, Ibrahim Maalouf and Totó la Momposina will play from Saturday at 9pm each evening. And those who visit on Saturday can expect to see a traditional ayyala dance at 10am; an Etihad fly past of the iconic dome at 4pm; and a spectacular light display by Groupe F starting at 7:30pm. For families visiting on Saturday, there is also a dedicated children's museum. It will introduce 6 to 12 year olds to artistic creation and technique. "The children's museum is key," said Mr Rabaté. "There will be real artworks. It's not a mock-up."

Commenting on the workers that toiled on the project over the past few years, Mr Martinez said there had been respect of human rights and workers and their rights.

Louvre Abu Dhabi has been described as a gift to the world. On Wednesday, French president Emmanuel Macron will be in town for the official opening ceremony and at 10am on Saturday, people can finally walk underneath Mr Nouvel's dome, around the mini-city and view spectacular artworks.

"When people come to Louvre Abu Dhabi, they'll come with questions. And if we've done our job right, they'll leave with more," said Ms Al Dhaheri. "But we also want them to come and enjoy themselves with friends and family. Go, explore and enjoy."