In 1682, Louis XIV chose the Palace of Versailles for his household, leaving the Louvre Palace in the heart of Paris as a place to display the royal collection. A decade later, a collection of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures was added here. More than a century later, during the French Revolution, it was decreed that the Louvre should be used as a museum to display the nation’s masterpieces. The Louvre Paris, as we know it, opened in August 1793 with an exhibition of 537 paintings. Holdings have grown steadily ever since, and now the collection stands at 38,000 objects. Last year, the Louvre Paris became the world’s most visited art museum, receiving 7.3 million visitors. The famed museum has now moved beyond Parisian perimeters — the Louvre Abu Dhabi opened to the public on November 11.
Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel as part of the up-and-coming cultural district on Saadiyat Island, Louvre Abu Dhabi is being pitched as a “universal museum focussing on shared human stories across civilisations and cultures”. So the galleries here are chronological and thematic, rather than geographic. For instance, ancient objects created by early civilisations in Central Asia, Egypt, and Europe will be displayed at one place.
On display will be artwork from the museum’s newly acquired collection (the first acquisition was a Piet Mondrian, bought at Christie’s in 2009 for 21 million euros), artefacts and loans from France’s top museums, and some pieces from the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, USA.
From prehistorical objects to commissioned contemporary artwork, the display highlights universal themes and ideas. There is a separate gallery dedicated to world religions, featuring sacred texts: a leaf from the “Blue Quran”, a Gothic Bible, a Pentateuch and texts from Buddhism and Taoism. In addition to the galleries, the Louvre Abu Dhabi includes temporary exhibitions, a children’s museum, a restaurant, a boutique and a café. Visitors walk through the promenades overlooking the sea, beneath the museum’s 180-metre dome, which comprises 8,000 metal stars set in a geometric pattern. When sunlight filters through, it creates a moving “rain of light” beneath the dome, just like the effect created by overlapping palm trees in a typical Arab oasis.
Louvre Abu Dhabi is an independent institution, operating as part of an intergovernmental agreement between Abu Dhabi and France. The name of Louvre is licensed for 30.5 years under the agreement. Nouvel has, in fact, created a museum city on the Saadiyat under the vast silvery dome. The goal is to make Saadiyat — and, by extension, Abu Dhabi — a cultural mecca. Next up is the famed Guggenheim Museum from New York City, a performing arts centre, a maritime museum and a museum devoted to the history of the UAE.