In 2017 the Louvre Abu Dhabi art museum opened, thousands anticipating to venture inside, wanting desperately to explore both the galleries and the building’s architecture.
10 years earlier, the official intergovernmental agreement signed between France and the United Arab Emirates birthed the museum into existence. And although it shares the same name as the famous Louvre found in Paris, the Abu Dhabi museum, France’s largest cultural project abroad, has something the original one doesn’t. The Louvre Abu Dhabi pays tribute to the Middle East’s rich heritage.
Rather than being only in awe of the artwork featured inside, during my visit, I found myself marveling at the museum’s exterior. Designed by renowned French architect Jean Nouvel and situated on an island bordered by crystal blue lagoons, the museum’s structure seems to float on water as its base is infiltrated by water channels.
The roof, a domed-shaped half-sphere, consists of nearly 8,000 metal stars arranged in a geometric pattern that allows various amounts of sunlight in, cheekily playing with light and shadow. This effect of ‘rain of light’ felt like a fascinating exhibition on its own. And when the building itself is a work of art, one can only begin to imagine what lies inside.
Having been gathering paintings, sculptures, and artifacts since 2009, Louvre Abu Dhabi has succeeded in building a vast collection that counts more than 600 pieces, with art ranging from ancient to contemporary. The museum also showcases masterpieces on loan from other partner museums and institutions.
However, what makes this museum different from others is not the actual pieces but how they are organized and shown. Visitors are asked to take a journey through time. And as they witness the chronological history of human creativity, they can start to truly see how similar various civilizations were and still are. The fact that individual work is categorized by time and not material or culture allows guests to walk through the museum’s 12 distinct chapters and come out the other side with a deep understanding of the world’s interconnectivity.
The Temporary Exhibitions
If you’re done with the permanent galleries and find yourself longing for more, you’ll be thrilled to know that the museum holds four different temporary exhibits every year, usually co-organized with French partners. I was able to catch their Versailles & the World exhibition (available from 26 January to 4 June 2022) that transported me into the 17th-18th century Versailles all the while making me connected to the East and West as the showcase shined a light on the exchanges between both sides of the world.
Another interesting exhibition I caught was Stories of Paper (available from 20 April to 24 July 2022), which explores the significance of the paper, its evolution, and transformation, as well as its uses through the first century to the present and from ancient Asia to Europe and contemporary Arabia. Luckily, if you miss an exhibition, you can simply visit the museum’s website and dive into the masterpieces presented, sometimes even literally, with some exhibitions offering virtual tours.
It was surprising to learn that the Louvre Abu Dhabi was not, in fact, an official Louvre franchise. Instead, the United Arabs Emirates paid approximately 400 million euros to the French museum so that they could lease the name for the next 30 years. But aside from the fact that that seems like a tremendous amount of money to license a name, this museum needs to be added to your ‘to be visited’ list of places. Not only will you finish your tour feeling more connected with humanity than ever, but the galleries will also inspire you to question what future generations might see if ours had its own chapter inside.
Photo: NICOLA MESSANA PHOTOS/Shutterstock
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