The Louvre Abu Dhabi
Well, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi definitely fulfils my idea of an island of happiness. The world’s star architects designing dazzling structures to house stellar collections on a vista of golden sand, the blue waters of the Persian Gulf and the exotic skyline of Abu Dhabi.
I made the two hour by car trip from Dubai to Abu Dhabi to have a peek at the 29 work ‘preview’ of the ‘Desert Louvre’ (Talking Art: Louvre Abu Dhabi), and discovered a great deal more about the Saadiyat Island cultural development, destined to be home of some of the world’s greatest cultural institutions …
Jean Nouvel design: Louvre Abu Dhabi
And extraordinary Saadiyat Island will be. Already under way is a Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum, a Zaha Hadid designed Performing Arts Centre, and a Tadao Ando designed Maritime Museum. Then there is Biennale Park, a 19-pavilion blue-print design by emerging young architects; the pavilions to be interlaced by a functional and sparkling canal! And I mustn’t forget to mention the architect responsible for designing the Louvre, Jean Nouvel. Nouvel designed the exquisite Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute) in Paris (completed 1987), and he is tightening his bonds with the region with his blueprint Desert Louvre. The Louvre Abu Dhabi will be just as extraordinary a Nouvel’s Paris offering. A cool and cleanly-lined ‘micro-city’ complex will be covered by a massive dome; the internal space to be delicately patterned by rays of streaming sunlight created by a cleverly designed ceiling of overlapping materials, reminiscent of the layered palm leaf roofs of traditional Arabic design.
Jean Nouvel design: Louvre Abu Dhabi
And these pending architectural marvels are just a part of the island’s physical infrastructure; they are all destined to contain a selection of the world’s most invaluable cultural works, a myriad representation of cultural histories and civilizations!
Zaha Hadid design: Performing Arts Centre Abu Dhabi
Of course there have been raised eyebrows. You have to remember that Abu Dhabi sits right by Dubai which has the (somewhat deserved) reputation of show pony in this region. Conspicuous consumption and design aesthetics seem to have morphed into ‘Dubai’ – for better and for worse – and the city state is frequently likened to a real estate Disneyland. But Abu Dhabi is not its flamboyant neighbor and historically has exercised restraint and strategic thoughtfulness in political and economic dealings – including the execution and presentation of its public projects.
Frank Gehry design: Guggenheim Abu Dhabi
Even more raised eyebrows, according to SHIFT online, may be found within the arts community. Five thousand, one hundred eyebrows in fact, connected to a 5,100 signatured petition of museum experts, archeologists and art historians (Kawakami, 2009). They feel that the Louvre is ‘selling out’, which in itself is a strange attitude to be held by cultural workers whose predominant occupations are to bring cultural knowledge and education to the world’s population. It is the hope of Sheik Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi’s Chairman of Tourism and Investment, that the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the anticipated cultural wealth of Saadiyat Island will be ‘a global cultural centre that is universal in its appeal’. Here’s hoping that the cost of a journey to the United Arab Emirates and the troubles of our planet will not prove prohibitive to realising this dream of a creative industry cluster where ideas and insights can flow.
Tadao Ando design: Maritime Museum Abu Dhabi
And the financial details of the controversial Louvre ‘franchise'? According to the New York Times Abu Dhabi will pay France US$555 million for the use of the Louvre’s name, as well as for art loans from France’s most prestigious museums (minimum 6-month and maximum 2-year loan periods), special exhibitions assistance and management advice (Vogel, 2009). The deal has been done with Agence France-Museums, a body which represents all the major French museums. The Louvre Abu Dhabi also has a purchasing budget that would make most cultural institutions in the world weep with envy. A team of French curators is assisting in the acquisition of works … and this leads me to Talking Art: Louvre Abu Dhabi.
Talking Art: Louvre Abu Dhabi is a 29 piece exhibition at the Emirates Palace, in anticipation of Louvre Abu Dhabi’s structural completion. At the palace you can enjoy a virtual tour of Nouvel’s extraordinary Desert Louvre, smile at some contemporary irony in the form of Thomas Struth’s (on loan from the Musée national d’art modern - Centre Pompidou) perspective-altering photograph of Louvre visitors surveying artworks; be calmed by the elegant simplicity of a northern Chinese white marble Head of Buddha (Northern Qi Dynasty, 550-577 AD); marvel at a Section of the Holy Qur’an from the Mamluk dynasty (Egypt or Syria, 2nd quarter of the 14th century) richly illuminated (and with expository commentary from that period in its margins!); revel with the gods of Olympus at The Wedding Banquet of Cupid and Psyche (Bernardo Daddi, known as the master with the Dice, after Michael Coxcie, Italy, 2nd quarter of the 16th century, on loan from the Bibliotheque national de France); be transfixed by the quiet grace of a monumental limewood Christ showing his wounds of passion (Bavaria or Austria, circa 1515); dream a little dream with Jacob, the third great Hebrew prophet (Jacob’s Dream, Bartolome Esteban Murillo, Seville, circa 1665) … then dip into the 20th Century Avant-garde with Cezanne’s Rocks near the caves above Chateau Noir (Aix-en-Provence, circa 1904), the work originally owned by Piet Mondrian, whose Composition with blue, red, yellow and black, adorns another wall of this exhibition … and that is only a taste of this preview Louvre presentation.
Nudes! Have to mention them, for to conform to local mores nude figures may not be displayed. This may leave a bit of a gap in the works that will be borrowed and acquired by the Desert Louvre, for pre-Christian, much tribal and Western art have always had a healthy fixation with the unclad form, be it rendered as fertility symbol, God and Goddess, portrait, representation of historical narrative, myth … or decorative eye candy. *I did note that a naked and chubby little cupid has already sneaked onto a number of images in Talking Art: Louvre Abu Dhabi. Maybe the forces of Eros have decided to put a little universal creative energy behind the success of the Saadiyat Island project! Here’s hoping.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is projected to be open in 2013.
Saadiyat Island will be developed through to 2018.
Kawakami, M (2009) ’Louvre Abu Dhabi’ SHIFT Online, Tokyo,
Vogel, K (2009) ‘Abu Dhabi gets a Sampler of World Art’, The New York Times <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/27/arts/design/27louv.html>