Louvre Abu Dhabi prepares to unveil itself to the world

Matisse meets George Washington at new museum

Louvre Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI: Nested under a dome with geometric arabesque patterns and appearing to float on water, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is now home to Matisse, Mondrian – and George Washington. The abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko hangs a few steps away from Henri Matisse, Vincent van Gogh and a portrait of George Washington in 12 “chapters”, or galleries, in the Emirati capital. Other galleries are dedicated to artifacts from China, Iraq and DR Congo, among others, aimed at telling the story of the civilizations and religions of the world.

The museum expects to welcome around 5,000 visitors in its first days which start with the public opening on Nov 11, according to Mohammed Al-Mubarak, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Culture and Tourism Authority. “Because this is an international museum, we’re expecting visitors from around the world,” Mubarak said during a media tour ahead of the inauguration ceremony to be held today. “So a museum visitor from China will find something that speaks to her, to her history. A visitor from India will find the same.”

On an island off the coast of Abu Dhabi, the galleries sit inside low-roofed white structures, reminiscent of an Arab “medina”, surrounded by water that flows between the museum buildings. In one gallery – or chapter – is a dark, quiet room home to a leaf from the Blue Quran, a ninth century manuscript with gold lettering on blue parchment. Right next to the Quran sit a 1498 Yemeni Pentateuch, the first book of the Jewish Torah, and two volumes of a Gothic bible bound in calfskin going back to the 13th century.

A star attraction, according to organizers, is Leonardo da Vinci’s “La Belle Ferronniere”, the portrait of an unknown woman, which is on loan from the Louvre in Paris. And on your way out is Ai Weiwei’s 23-foot-high “Fountain of Light,” a spiralling structure draped in crystals inspired by communist plans for a massive monument that never actually saw the light of day.
The opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the first museum to carry the famed art brand outside of France, comes after a more than five-year delay. The launch comes a decade after France and the UAE agreed to a 30-year partnership reportedly worth $1.1 billion, including nearly half a billion dollars for the rights to the Louvre brand alone. French President Emmanuel Macron is set to attend the inauguration on his first visit to the United Arab Emirates since taking office in May.

During construction, the project faced intense criticism over conditions faced by laborers, who faced low pay, long hours and hot conditions. A worker was killed in an accident in 2015 while another died of “natural causes” in 2016, according to Abu Dhabi authorities. Hundreds working on projects on the island, including the Louvre, also were deported or lost their work visas for launching strikes over their conditions, according to according to a 2015 Human Rights Watch report . Labor strikes are illegal in the UAE.

Jean-Luc Martinez, the president-director of the Louvre in Paris, contends the museum spoke “very frankly” about laborer conditions. He described the museum as a bridge between Asia, Africa and Europe. “We are not a European museum,” he told the AP. “It’s a place to see the world from Abu Dhabi.” That begins in the first gallery, where the floor bears an outline of the UAE with the names of different world cities in Arabic, China, English and Hindi. Different cultures face each other in exhibits: For example, a French suit of armor is positioned to look directly across from a Japanese warrior’s outfit.

The museum also makes a point to put the world’s religions side by side. In one exhibit, a Jewish funerary stele from France in 1250 sits next to a Tunisian Muslim’s funerary steel and a Christian archbishop’s stone epitaph from Tyre, Lebanon. A painted French stone statue of Virgin and Child stands by a section of a Syrian Quran dating to around 1250, open to a page recounting the night during the holy month of Ramadan when the holy book was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
In a Middle East still torn by religious and sectarian conflict, whether between Sunni and Shiite or Israelis and the Palestinians, simply putting them side by side is a major statement. “By addressing their message to all humanity without distinction, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam transcended local cultural characteristics and deeply transformed ancient societies,” one placard reads. “These religions shared with Judaism the concept of monotheism but diverged on the subjects such as the representation of the divine.”

Nudity, however, is only lightly represented, either in bare breasts on an Italian dish or nude bronze ballerina statuettes by Edgar Degas, seemingly dancing in the line of sight of James McNeill Whistler’s famed painting of his mother. Whistler’s painting joins a woman’s portrait on wood by Leonardo da Vinci, two works by Pablo Picasso and a hot-pink Andy Warhol image of an electric chair. – Agencies


This article was published on 07/11/2017