Travel Story Louvre Abu Dhabi set to open in November

Photo of Gemma Nisbet

The Middle Eastern outpost of the renowned Paris museum has been described as “one of the most ambitious cultural projects in the world”.

It’s been a decade in the making but the Louvre Abu Dhabi is finally set to open its doors to the public on November 11.

First announced in 2007, the project has been troubled by delays, controversy over allegations of mistreatment of construction workers and criticism from those who objected to the deal to develop the first foreign outpost of Paris’ Musee du Louvre. 

Regardless, the new museum — described by the French Minister for Culture Francoise Nyssen as “one of the most ambitious cultural projects in the world” — is bound to prove a significant tourism drawcard for Abu Dhabi. 

A major attraction will be the building itself, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning French architect Jean Nouvel and topped by a 180m dome made up of nearly 8000 metal stars intended to evoke the effect of sunlight passing through overlapping palm leaves. Nouvel described the building as “a homage to the Arab city, to its poetry in geometry and light”. 

Along with the collection of more than 600 artworks that the museum has acquired so far, its galleries will display items on loan from 13 top French institutions, including works by da Vinci, van Gogh, Rodin and Giacometti. 

Items on display will span prehistoric artefacts to contemporary artworks by the likes of Ai Weiwei and American neo-conceptual artist Jenny Holzer, all arranged to highlight “universal themes and ideas” and “shared human stories across civilisations and cultures” (as the press release puts it) rather than the object’s origin. 

For example, a gallery focused on religions will display sacred texts, including a leaf from the famous Blue Koran, which dates from the late 9th to early 10th century and is written in gold on indigo- coloured vellum, along with a Gothic Bible, a Pentateuch (comprising the first five books of the Jewish and Christian scriptures) and Buddhist and Taoist texts. A section about modernity, meanwhile, will include works by Manet, Gauguin and Mondrian.

The museum will host four temporary exhibitions each year, starting with From One Louvre to Another, opening on December 21. Following the history of the Musee du Louvre in Paris, the exhibition will include about 145 paintings, sculptures and other pieces from the collections of the Musee du Louvre and the Chateau de Versailles. 

The intergovernmental agreement underpinning the development of the new museum facilitates loans such as this, and allows for the loan of the Musee du Louvre’s name for 30 years and six months, temporary exhibitions for 15 years and artworks from French institutions for 10 years. 

The Louvre Abu Dhabi will also have a Children’s Museum for those aged six to 12, along with a restaurant, boutique and cafe. The opening celebrations will include public programs such as performances, concerts, dance and visual arts. 

The museum is part of the Saadiyat Cultural District on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, which brings together big names of the cultural and architectural worlds.

It will also incorporate the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, a maritime museum by renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando, Norman Foster’s Zayed National Museum and a performing arts centre by the late Zaha Hadid. 

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