After ten years in the making, the Louvre Abu Dhabi was finally inaugurated on Wednesday, November 8. The art and civilization museum is part of a 30-year partnership between France and the United Arab Emirates, reportedly worth $1.1 billion. The opening ceremony of the museum was the reason for the French President Emmanuel Macron’s first official visit to the Middle East.
The construction cost of the largest museum on the Arabian peninsula is believed to have totaled about $600 million, with an additional sum of 1.1 billion dollars going to the Republic of France. $525 million purchased the right to use the name ‘Louvre’ for the next thirty years. The rest will provide art loans, special exhibitions costs, and management advice.
The museum is located in the Saadiyat Island Cultural District, just off the coast of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. It was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, a Pritzker prize winner, as a “seemingly floating dome structure.”
The dome consists of eight layers of Arab-style geometric shapes, and the constantly shifting shadows cast by the sun passing through their honeycomb structure resemble the “rays of sunlight passing through date palm fronds in an oasis.”
‘Fountain of Light’ by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, is one of the contemporary pieces currently on display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi
The museum is focused mainly on history and religion, although about five percent of the exhibits are dedicated to contemporary and modern art
An early version of the Koran, a gothic Bible and a Yemenite Torah are exhibited in the museum, and all three books are opened on verses that deliver the same message.
Abu Dhabi’s Louvre currently displays about 300 borrowed pieces, one of which is the “La Belle Ferronniere,” painted by Leonardo Da Vinci near the end of the 15th century.
According to the president of the Louvre in Paris, Jean-Luc Martinez, the purpose of this new Louvre was ‘to open up to others’ and ‘to understand diversity in a multipolar world’.
The Gulf Emirate has built up quite an art collection of their own over the years. More than 235 art pieces from it are currently on display in the museum, including Edouard Manet’s “The Gypsy” as well as works by Dutch abstract artist Piet Mondrian and Turkey’s Osman Hamdi Bey.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi opened its doors to the public on Saturday, November 11. Thousands of curious visitors explored the galleries of the museum awed by the experience and impressed by the wonderful art on display.
According to Mohammed al-Mubarak, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Culture and Tourism Authority, an estimated number of 5,000 visitors were expected to tour the museum during the first few days.
Before the inauguration ceremony on Wednesday, Mubarak spoke to the media, saying, “Because this is an international museum, we’re expecting visitors from around the world. So a museum visitor from China will find something that speaks to her, to her history. A visitor from India will find the same.”
Looking after the exhibits is a combination of French experts and Emirati forces. To prevent the extreme heat, which can reach well over 104 degrees Fahrenheit in the UAE, from damaging the artwork, strict measures have been put in place by the authorities.
The construction of the museum was plagued by controversies. The project faced a lot of criticism, as workers reportedly labored for long hours in the intense heat and were paid next to nothing. Strikes were launched to protest against the poor conditions. However, the only result was hundreds of workers either being deported or losing their working visas, as labor strike are illegal in the UAE.
When the project was first announced, more than a decade ago, it caused heated debates in France with many outraged that the name ‘Louvre’ was going to be sold
But the museum was envisioned as a bridge between the East and the West. France’s then-President Jacques Chirac considered it a way to fight extremism with art.
“By choosing the Louvre, the emirate of Abu Dhabi not only sealed a partnership with the world’s most visited and well-known museum, but selected one which, from its very inception, had a vocation to reach out to the world, to the essence of mankind, through the contemplation of works of art,” Chirac said.