The landmark museum, now shining bright as the glittering crown jewel of the capital’s Saadiyat Cultural District, swung open its doors to the public for the first time on Saturday – and its impact looks set to be felt for generations to come.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi’s striking structure, masterminded by the genius of French architect Jean Nouvel, houses a museum city where culture is very much the capital.
The iconic dome – with its awe-inspiring floating roof – is made up of a constellation of thousands of metal stars which allow sunlight to filter through to create a moving rain of light, while visitors can take a serene stroll through a beautiful promenade looking out onto calm waters.
While Louvre Abu Dhabi is undoubtedly a work of art in itself, it is the incredible array of masterpieces spanning centuries and civilizations, where stunning symbols of different religions stand together, which makes it one of the most culturally significant openings and landmarks in the history of the UAE and the wider Middle East.
The sprawling 6,400 sq m of gallery is filled with more than 900 incredible artworks and artefacts chronicling the entirety of humanity.
Louvre Abu Dhabi is the Middle East’s very first Universal Museum, a term used to describe culture spots that showcase art works from all over the world, not just from the region where it is based.
The museum takes visitors on a journey of enlightenment and discovery, through 12 distinctly-themed gallery zones, boasting masterpieces representing civilizations and artistic movements from significant points in human history, from the rise of the Roman Empire, the great advances made in ancient Egypt, to eras where Chinese dynasties ruled supreme to important periods such as The Renaissance, the Impressionists and the Modernists.
Louvre Abu Dhabi was born out of a landmark agreement between the governments of Abu Dhabi and France back in 2007 and the French influence is clearly felt in the newly-launched museum.
Louvre Abu Dhabi is home to 300 key works on loan from 13 French institutions for its inaugural year, including Leonardo da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronnière, also widely known as the Portrait of an Unknown Woman, which has been loaned from the Louvre in Paris, France.
The museum team have also looked within the Arab world itself to put 28 significant works from the region in the spotlight, including a pendant dating back to 2000-1800 BCE and a painted Neolithic vase discovered on Abu Dhabi’s Marawah Island settlement loaned by The National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah and the Ain Ghazal Statue, an 8,000-year-old two-headed figure from Jordan’s Department of Antiquities.
A cultural journey through time
The museum’s collection takes visitors on a journey from the prehistoric to the present day, encompassing 12 chapters covering everything from the world’s first villages, universal religions, royal courts and the modern world.
The first gallery that greets visitors goes back to the first settlements of humanity, spreading from East Africa to China and Central America. Eye-catching exhibits include the Bactrian Princess, dating back to Central Asia at the beginning of the second millennium BCE and an eye-catching Cypriot idol crafted between 2,300 and 1,900 BCE.
From then, art lovers journey to gallery two, The First Great Powers. Here you can look on in awe at the huge King Ramesses II, a statue of an Egyptian pharaoh made between 1279-1213 BCE and the praying statue of Gudea.
Beautiful artworks and sculptures celebrating the rise of empires around the world, including a bust of the all-conquering Alexander the Great, are on show in gallery three, while universal religions are celebrated through artwork in gallery four.
Other highlights among the vast collection of exhibits include those housed in gallery ten, which is entitled A Modern World. Here you’ll find some of the most famous works of all time, including a self-portrait by the world-renowned Vincent Van Gogh. It’s a showpiece gallery that will wow visitors.
Gallery 11, Challenging Modernity, takes you on a trip back to the 20th century, allowing progressive art movements to take centre stage, before you make your way to gallery 12, Global Stage, where Louvre Abu Dhabi shows it is not just a window to the past but has an eye on the art trends of the moment, including Ai Weiwei’s incredible fountain of light installation, made out of dazzling glass crystals.
Inspiring the next generation
One of the key tenants of the Louvre is inspiring the next generation of artists in the UAE – and ensuring young people can enrich their minds at a cultural landmark right on their doorstep.
The opening of a unique Children’s Museum is a central part of this bold vision for Louvre Abu Dhabi. Artworks are specially designed to be at a child’s eye-level and the vibrant space is home to a host of immersive and interactive zones, featuring hands-on activities and educational workshops.
The museum’s first ever exhibition, Travelling Shapes and Colours, explores everything from floral to geometric ornamentation, including 16th-century Turkish ceramics and 18th century decorative French vases. A forward-thinking education initiative has also been rolled out, with Louvre bosses joining forces with Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge, plus schools and universities in the capital, to develop materials and projects for all ages.
The first exhibition
The very first exhibition to be held at Louvre Abu Dhabi, From One Louvre to Another: Opening a Museum for Everyone, will go on display on December 21.
The exhibition traces the history of musée du Louvre in Paris in the 18th century, providing an intriguing insight into the royal collections at Versailles under King Louis XIV; the residency of the Academy and Salons in the Louvre, converted into a palace for artists; and the eventual creation of the musée du Louvre. The exhibition will feature approximately 150 significant paintings, sculptures, decorative arts and other pieces, mainly from the collections of musée du Louvre, but also from the Château de Versailles, also in France.
“The UAE’s gift to the world”
Jean Francois Charnier, Scientific and Cultural Director of Agence France-Museums, says Abu Dhabi Louvre provides a narrative on the world through art.
Speaking at the Louvre Abu Dhabi launch, he stated: “The universal spirit is revealed in stages at the museum. The succession of rooms thus becomes a narrative. After a prologue of masterpieces from multiple periods of time, an enigma prompts visitors to reflect on the meaning of universality.
“The majesty of the architecture animates this narrative, as do the individual galleries’ wall panels and digital elements. Everything is done to ensure that the visitors’ encounters with works of art give rise to emotions and questions. The presentation of the works brings together cultures and civilisations in the same galleries, in exploration of the general spirit of their times.”
Jean Nouvel, the Pritzker prize winning architect of Louvre Abu Dhabi, says his creation is a “sanctuary” of art.
Nouvel said: “Louvre Abu Dhabi becomes the final destination of an urban promenade, a garden on the coast, a cool haven, a shelter of light during the day and evening, its aesthetic consistent with its role as a sanctuary for the most precious works of art.”
His Excellency Mohamed Al Mubarak, chairman of the Department of Culture & Tourism and the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), says Louvre Abu Dhabi is the UAE’s “gift to the world”: “The UAE is proud of our rich heritage, while also embracing progress and change.
“We are a dynamic, vibrant and multicultural society, where people live in harmony and tolerance. This diversity is reflected in Louvre Abu Dhabi’s collection, which celebrates the innate human fascination with discovery.
“Each visitor will encounter extraordinary artworks and artefacts from global cultures that are both familiar and surprising. Louvre Abu Dhabi is the UAE’s gift to the world.
Tickets are Dhs60 (general admission), Dhs30 (visitors aged 13-22), free (kids under 13, journalists and visitors with special needs as well as their companion). Open Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday 10am-8pm; Thursday-Friday 10am-10pm. Saadiyat Cultural District, Saadiyat Island, www.louvreabudhabi.ae (600 565 566).
Anticipation can build up for years, months and even in just a matter of moments – and in the case of the Louvre Abu Dhabi all three are true. Abu Dhabi has been waiting eagerly for the opening of the iconic museum since it was first announced in 2007 and that hunger to see the stunning creation in person was only heightened when the November 11 launch date was revealed back in September.
For me, all that waiting, all that hope and expectation was distilled into the short stroll in Saadiyat Island to the Louvre, my excitement growing as each step brought me closer to the marvellous dome structure.
The eyes of the world (and its cameras and microphones) were fixed on the capital at a huge preview held just days before the public opening. As you walk into the vast art space, your eyes are immediately drawn upwards, to the jaw-dropping floating roof made of a galaxy of stars allowing sun light to bath the bright, white walls of the museum.
Natural elements are at play here, with the building surrounded by open water as the rays of sunshine creep in to create an oasis of light under a star-clustered, gleaming dome.
Gifted architect Jean Nouvel has created a masterpiece that is true to Arabian roots and that are married to modernity in perfect harmony. But the artwork is never overshadowed by the structure.
The minimalist, white décor of the network of galleries ensures all the attention is placed where it should be – on the art.
Within a few minutes of touring the brilliant array of galleries you feel like you have journeyed across the world – back in time and then right to the present day again.
Art reflecting the great civilizations of Egypt and Rome, religions ranging from Islam to Hinduism and the grandeur of French royal courts are all waiting to be discovered. You can travel thousands of miles and cover countless centuries under one magnificent roof.
To see pieces from masters such as Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Édouard Manet’s, Henri Matisse and more contemporary giants such as Andy Warhol with your very own eyes feels like a privilege. And it is heartening to think it is a privilege the entire UAE can share in. With general admission priced at just Dhs60, and kids getting in for half that prize, this really is art for all.
It may have taken a decade to get here, but Louvre Abu Dhabi is well worth the wait.
Dhs60. Louvre Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Island www.louvreabudhabi.ae (600 565 566).