Museum in an architectural marvel

Louvre Abu Dhabi adds a new feather to the UAE capital's cap

In a skyline dotted with tall towers and glitzy glass cladding, this structure would appear modest and 'low' profile, but then it is not the building but its art that has to stand out as its architect, Jean Nouvel would say. “I wanted to create a neighbourhood of art, rather than a building” he said.

Standing on the beach of Saadiya Island, Louvre Abu Dhabi, as it has come to be named, with its metallic domed roof would not only stand out as a rarity by Abu Dhabi's architecture trend, but also serve to convey a message of serene art, subdued building culture and aesthetic calm. This time no altitude contest here: even the pinnacle of Louvre Abu Dhabi stands just 30 metres high. To say it is a museum par excellence in the region would be a bit of an understatement.

The unique attraction was inaugurated on Tuesday 7 November 2017 jointly by French President Emmanuel Macron and UAE Crown Prince and  Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and open to the public from 11 November. In form and content, it is celebrated as a meeting point of the arts and beauty of the East and West.

The museum comprises 55 white buildings topped by an iconic metallic dome, with a meticulously organized mix of galleries - all different from one another which take visitors on a global journey through 12 chapters, arranged chronologically displaying exhibits ranging from prehistoric artefacts to contemporary art works – a typical paradigm intended to drive home the thread that runs through different cultures and regions throughout the ages.

As an engineering feat too, Louvre Abu Dhabi may carry several firsts, especially as a structure in water. Still, it may surprise us to know that 75% of the museum complex is under sea, but the portion to which public has access makes up only 20% of the total space which includes galleries, auditorium, restaurant, cafeteria, the plaza levels and the entrance building. Those who worked on the project recall that facilities management personnel would often get lost while going below to the sea level due to the complex design of the under-water levels. Historically speaking, they say, this is a kind of project  that will happen only once in a century.

Louvre Paris, the legendary French landmark and a definite destination in the French capital of any visitor - be he of the calm art-loving variety or the fast-track tourist - is getting an overseas presence by its name for the first time through a 30-year deal with Abu Dhabi worth close to  900 million US Dollar to use its name. 

The museum is a product of a 2007 agreement between the UAE and French governments. The deal loans the name of the renowned Louvre Museum for 30 years and six months, along with temporary exhibitions for 15 years, and artworks from 13 leading French institutions for a decade.

But the Paris repute remaining as such, the museum is an entirely Emirati project as stressed by Jean-Luc Martinez, president-director of the Louvre Museum in Paris, during a press conference on the inauguration day. “This is an Emirati project, in keeping with the UAE leaders’ vision of a knowledge movement in the 21st century, and France has shared its knowledge” he said.

At present, more than 50 per cent of the professionals — such as curators, educators and support service staff — at the museum are Emirati.

As of now the Louvre Abu Dhabi has acquired 620 pieces as part of its permanent collection, including an ancient Bactrian princess from the beginning of the second millennium BCE, a leaf from the Blue Quran dating back to about 900AD, and French artist Paul Gauguin’s 1888 piece, Children Wrestling. These are housed in a series of 55 white buildings topped by an iconic metallic dome, along with 300 loaned items from French and regional museums.

The loans also include Italian master Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of a woman, La Belle Ferronniere, a massive Italian globe dating back to the 17th century, and a bronze Apollo Belvedere statue created for French nobility. 

In addition to what are in display, the Abu Dhabi Louvre also boasts of how the exhibits are displayed as its unique feature. The organization follows a chronological trail, and in a manner that shows the shared human experience across civilizations, as explained by Jean-Francois Charnier, scientific director at Agence France-Museums, an organization tasked with executing the commitment of France toward the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Apart from what the museum holds inside for the beholder, the exterior and its ambience offer a breath-taking experience to any visitor. The stone platform holding the edifice literally stands in water like an island,  with its rippling water  giving a splendid array of light.

As Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE said at the inauguration “Louvre Abu Dhabi will be a meeting point for lovers of art, culture and beauty all around the world. With the opening of this museum, Abu Dhabi has become the capital of art, architecture and mankind’s heritage” of course thereby standing tall - without a tall tower this time.

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