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  • Fiona Prior

The Louvre, Abu Dhabi

The Louvre – Abu Dhabi. Architect Jean Nouvel

Jean Nouvel’s elegant Louvre, Abu Dhabi building opened on 11 November 2017, 10 years after the Paris museum signed an unprecedented £663m deal to allow Abu Dhabi to use its name for 30 years and borrow 300 works from its collection.

image: An example of the earliest monumental representations of human beings, Ain Ghazal, Jordan (round 6500 BC) courtesy of the Louvre, Abu Dhabi

How did I feel on finally setting foot in this extraordinary building that had been begun when I was living in Dubai about a decade ago? I knew I would love the building. The Louvre Abu Dhabi, for all its massive budget contains a simplicity of style and form that is far more beautiful than the overwrought ‘glam’ of many contemporary buildings in this region. Its paired back clean lines and unique architectural detailing has far more in common with the stream-lined beauty of Sydney’s Opera House than the race for ‘the biggest/best/most gilt encrusted’ that is frequently seen in these parts (to be fair, the latter is far more likely to be found in neighbouring Dubai). It is also a beautiful modern counterpoint to the traditional all-white Mosque that previously held the position of stand-out cultural edifice in this emirate of Abu Dhabi.

image: 'Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul, Crossing the Alps on 20 May 1800' by Jacques-Louis David (1803) courtesy of the Louvre, Abu Dhabi

The exhibition itself also has a simplicity in vision that is beautiful though not quite as convincing as the concrete that contains it.

It celebrates in 12 chapters that you can traverse in just one visit – of what can only be described as the products of the best of human cultural development; the commentary that accompanies the artifacts explaining historic contexts and the influence of trade routes, industry, economics and religion in an articulate and even-handed manner.

You are swept up in its pride-inducing journey that traverses displays of fertility figures through to artifacts and objects that represent/are from 'The First Villages', 'The First Great Powers', 'Civilizations and Empires', 'The Universal Religions', 'The Asian Trade Routes', and so on .... domestic tools and instruments, religious icons, visual depictions of humans at work and play; all examples of cultural dexterity and frequent genius with only one – just one – room named ‘The Art of War’.

image: Fountain of Light by Ai Weiwei (2016), courtesy of the Louvre, Abu Dhabi

The gift shop contains all the usual gorgeous and gorgeously overpriced confections and cool bibs and bobs that do all gallery gift shops plus copies of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum's book 'Reflections on Happiness & Positivity'. Hmmmm. This could be the key to that little feeling of disquiet I have about the cultural journey of human evolution I have just made. Sheikh Mohammed is a leader who seems oblivious to the confines of reality. He thinks nothing of building an island here, changing a tidal current there or designing a landmark palm tree that can be discerned from the moon.

When you make the pilgrimage you will you will be impressed (blown-away) by the calibre of artifacts and artworks - both on loan and acquired. Unfortunately, I was too early to see Leonardo Da Vinci portrait of Christ which recently sold for £336m, reportedly acquired by a Saudi Prince. 'Salvator Mundi' (Saviour of the World) will join the Louvre's collection this September.

image: 'Salvator Mundi' by Leonardo Da Vinci (round 1500)

And you will love the rain of sunshine/*starshine through the intricate dome ceiling of the Louvre, all based in geometry and compass points as it throws shafts of light in streams across the pale interior of the building.

image: “Walking Man, on a Column” by Auguste Rodin (cast in 2006 by Fonderie de Coubertin). On the back wall is Jenny Holzer’s commissioned marble relief of cuneiform text that transcribes a creation myth from a Mesopotamian tablet.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is an extraordinary new cultural destination.

(*One of the most enjoyable past-times when I lived in this region was to go into the desert on weekend evenings and hear stories of the constellations and to listen to tales of historic journeys that used the stars for navigation. Most Emirate families have ancestors who were nomadic and if you are lucky enough they share their family stories and show you old navigational tools that are treasured.)

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