In 2015 the UAE’s capital Abu Dhabi will fling open its doors on the ground-breaking Louvre museum project, to visitors from around the globe. Alice Johnson gives a sneak preview to what art lovers can expect...
Already a world-renowned project, the museum will house works of historical, cultural and sociological significance, from civilisations worldwide. Its 64,000 square-metre site will comprise 9,200 square metres of art gallery, 6,000 square metres for a permanent gallery and 2,000 square metres for temporary exhibitions.
The main permanent exhibition will highlight four major periods in time: the birth of civilisation; the medieval period and the birth of Islam; the Classical period – from Humanism to Enlightenment; and the modern and contemporary periods – from the late 18th century to today. These periods will be displayed alongside each other, rather than being segregated according to Hissa Al Dhaheri, Project Manager of The Louvre Abu Dhabi. “The Louvre Abu Dhabi is going to be a universal museum that will take the visitors across through time, from antiquity to contemporary/modern time. And we’re going to do it in an interrelated way… in the Louvre Abu Dhabi you’ll be taken through a journey where you’re going through from one civilisation to another and walking through time seeing these comparisons through civilisations,” she told Al Shindagah.
“The main point of the museum is to be able to see the similarities and differences between civilisations and how artistic movements have moved from one region to another. It’s a global, universal narrative,” she added.
Pieces in the permanent collection include a Bactrian Princess, dating from the 3rd millennium BCE; a preserved pavement and fountain from the early Ottoman period; a 3,000-year-old lion’s head; and the Paul Gauguin masterpiece ‘Breton Boys Wrestling’, from 1888.
Originally announced by the Abu Dhabi and French Governments in 2007, the project is now scheduled for completion – and will be open to the public – in 2015. To engage its prospective audience, the Museum has held annual exhibitions and public talks since 2011, exploring the themes of its permanent collection. “We had our first presentation of a small-scale exhibition in 2009 and then we continue to use a lot of groundwork, which is where a lot of our focus is as well, working on-field with the people, building our audience with the series of talks we had in 2011 and 2012 and moving on until today,” Al Dhaheri said.
A recent exhibition - at Manarat Al Saadiyat, in the Saadiyat Cultural District of Abu Dhabi - basically sums up everything humanity has been doing until today, she added. “It gives the people a sort of taster of what the museum is going to be like.” The exhibition she’s talking about is ‘Birth of a Museum’; showcasing almost 130 works of art from the permanent collection. According to the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), the exhibition “proposes a singular and original re-reading of the history of art and is built around several key artistic and aesthetic questions which reveal the core principles of the identity of the Louvre Abu Dhabi: universalism, the comparison between art works from great civilisations, from the most ancient times to the contemporary scene, while underlining the multidisciplinary nature of the fields of artistic creation. The exhibition will also “explore the status of the work of art, the universal questions of the Figure and the Sacred, as well as mutual inspirations, aesthetic borrowings and influences, and the grand voyage of forms and ideas, between reality and the imagination.”
This Cultural District will be dedicated to the arts and culture and five museums are set to open in the next few years. Along with the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Zayed National Museum (2016), Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (2017), a Performing Arts Centre and a Maritime Museum will open on the island.
Le Louvre Abu Dhabi building itself has been designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect Jean Nouvel. With a significant nod to the Arab region, the Museum has been formulated with a traditional-style water irrigation system – a Falaj – and its main geometric lace dome was inspired by the feel of sun peeking through palm trees. “I wanted this building to mirror a protected territory that belongs to the Arab world and this geography,” Nouvel said at the launch of the project.
While the roof will act as a shading canopy, it has also been designed to reduce the building’s energy consumption. Light-coloured, reflective materials will also reflect heat rather than absorb it, ensuring the building stays cool; while water taps, fixtures and fittings aim to conserve the amount of water the Museum uses.
So how does the Project Manager think the museum will be accepted in the UAE? “It’s definitely a new format, it’s a new concept,” Al Dhaheri said. “Going back to the universal concept… it would be a concept that will show similarities and differences between different cultures through these artworks,” she added. “It’s a totally different concept to start with; and that is the basis of what will make the museum stand out.”
If the exhibitions are to give an insight into how popular the museum will be when open, the results are encouraging. “The exhibition has had an excellent number of visitors and people have loved walking through it,” Al Dhaheri continued, “if you visit the exhibition on a weekend it’s been absolutely packed and the number of schools we’ve had visit on a daily basis is at the maximum,” she said.
To date, 500,000 cubic metres of earth has been excavated on-site, piling work has been completed and a prototype of the dome (15 metres in diameter) has been erected on Saadiyat Island, for light testing purposes. “There is definitely an appetite and there’s definitely I would say an acceptance,” Al Dhaheri continued, “and not only an acceptance, eagerness to what the museum is going to be like.”