Louvre Abu Dhabi: Europe’s most well-known museum begins profitable chapter within the Middle East – tech2.org

Louvre Abu Dhabi: Europe’s most well-known museum begins profitable chapter within the Middle East

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The exterior of the brand new Louvre Abu Dhabi museum. (Mohamed Somji/Louvre Abu Dhabi)

Welcome to the “Island of Happiness.”

Here, on a literal desert island off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, a younger, oil-rich ­nation-state is searching for to rise above its neighbors and catapult itself into historical past. At the identical time, the world’s most well-known museum is seeking to increase its empire and to line its coffers for many years to come back. This is the ­story of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the long-awaited centerpiece of a multibillion-dollar advanced slated to showcase a number of the strongest names within the Western cultural universe: the Guggenheim Museum, New York University and the Sorbonne, amongst others.

The Louvre mission — which French President Emmanuel Macron inaugurated Wednesday and which is able to open to the general public Saturday — represents the primary abroad enlargement of what’s maybe Europe’s most venerable artwork establishment. The opening brings to an finish a decade of delays and bitter controversy.

In France, scores of trade professionals nonetheless decry what they see as a beloved museum promoting out to the very best bidder, accepting $464 million from the UAE authorities for the usage of its vaunted identify. Globally, human rights watchdogs nonetheless accuse the Louvre and different establishments on the island of getting exploited and abused migrant labor.

The French and UAE governments shortly christened the brand new Louvre as a common museum “that will broadcast tolerance and acceptance.” But the actual function of this gleaming ziggurat on the waterfront stays a matter of intense debate. It will characteristic works, loaned from a community of French museums, by masters comparable to Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh and Piet Mondrian. But is the Louvre Abu Dhabi actually concerning the artwork? Or is it a pawn in a bigger recreation of statecraft and geopolitics?


The museum’s “Rain of Light” roof. (Mohamed Somji/Louvre Abu Dhabi)

Inside the UAE, the brand new museum is seen primarily as a method of recasting the nation’s public picture from a “playground in the desert” to a cultural powerhouse.

“This is a major statement,” Sultan Sooud al-Qbademi, an Emirati royal and distinguished artwork collector, mentioned in an interview. “This is saying that we’re not playing in the little leagues — we’re playing in the major leagues. It’s probably the greatest museum in the world, and it will have not just a small branch but a mbadive presence.”

The mission additionally figures into inside competitors among the many UAE’s seven constituent kingdoms, every of which is searching for its personal distinctive area of interest, mentioned Kristian Ulrichsen, an knowledgeable on the historical past of the Persian Gulf states at Rice University. Dubai, he mentioned, embraced enterprise and infrastructure practically 20 years earlier than Abu Dhabi, the capital, which finally controls the lion’s share of the nation’s oil reserves. The ambitions of the latter, flush with money, proceed to rise.

In France, the Louvre Abu Dhabi has lengthy figured in discussions which have far transcended the realm of artwork for artwork’s sake.

“The objective was never aesthetic — it was political,” mentioned ­Didier Rykner, a French artwork historian who’s among the many mission’s most outspoken critics.

Authorized by a 2007 act of the French Parliament, the brand new museum is usually thought-about a soft-power part of a broader strategic enlargement into the gulf area, which included the set up of everlasting navy bases in Abu Dhabi in 2009, the French navy’s first abroad ­enlargement since decolonization started within the mid-1960s.

As Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s then-president, mentioned when he inaugurated these bases, they’d “show the responsibility that France, as a global power, agrees to badume with its closest partners, in a region that is a fault line for the whole world.” This is a stance that Macron has maintained since his election in May, trying to place France as a chief interlocutor on the world stage, particularly within the Middle East on the query of Iran.

In the throes of Persian Gulf turmoil, nonetheless, there’s additionally the specter of close by Qatar, whose capital, Doha, has lengthy established itself as a extra open middle of mental alternate within the area: It is residence to the Al Jazeera media community, a satellite tv for pc campus of the Brookings suppose tank and an acclaimed artwork museum of its personal, designed by I.M. Pei. Doha’s skyline incorporates a distinguished skyscraper by the Pritzker Prize-winning French architect Jean Nouvel, later commissioned to design the Louvre Abu Dhabi. As Nouvel mentioned in an interview, “Now is not the time to talk about that.”

Ulrichsen mentioned of UAE officers, “They’re trying to discredit Qatar’s attempt to build up a simple brand, and this will only help them to project an image of benevolent modernization.”

For critics, that “modernization” is little greater than a desert mirage.

While notably extra liberal than its neighbors within the area, the UAE nonetheless has repressive tendencies that severely restrict freedom of expression, jail dissidents and permit sure offenses to be punished in accordance with sharia regulation. There can also be the lingering subject of how — and by whom — the glistening new landmarks on the Island of Happiness had been constructed.

For years, journalists and rights advocates accused the event of abuse and exploitation — allegations that finally warranted the intervention of a European human rights panel in December 2013. According to a 2015 Human Rights Watch report, the brand new Abu Dhabi mission noticed “some employers continue to withhold wages and benefits from workers, fail to reimburse recruiting fees, confiscate worker pbadports, and house workers in substandard accommodations.”

In latest years, the UAE authorities has begun overhauling the “kafala” system of migrant labor, which exists in lots of gulf states and makes migrant laborers depending on their employers for his or her visas. But the accusations stay, a lot to the chagrin of ­Louvre officers. “We have visited the workers and seen their conditions here. We have verified their conditions,” Nouvel mentioned. “And I can badure you — I’m not sure it exists. It does not exist like that in the Louvre Abu Dhabi.”

But the Island of Happiness is simply a literal island. It just isn’t exempt from the regulation of the land, a actuality that has led many to query whether or not distinguished Western universities and museums are compromising their values by establishing satellites in Abu Dhabi. Some of those establishments have listened, going as far as to cancel their agreements. After two professors, each of Shiite origin, had been denied safety clearance to enter the UAE, New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute determined final week to finish its relationship with the college’s Abu Dhabi campus.

Similar critiques have been levied towards the Louvre, largely over its showing to censor probably delicate artworks of a political or badual nature in Abu Dhabi.

“Of course, we can say: ‘Why should we be here? Why should we be doing this?’ ” mentioned Olivier Gabet, the director of Paris’s ­Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Gabet served for a number of years on the brand new museum’s planning committee and taught within the artwork historical past program on the Sorbonne’s Abu Dhabi campus, which trains native college students to enter the museum occupation. “But we could say the same in reverse. By the same token, why wouldn’t we want to be there, in the midst of a social, educational and cultural transformation like this?”

Mohamed Khalifa al-Mubarak, the director of Abu Dhabi’s tradition division, mentioned a lot the identical. In an interview, he highlighted one explicit gallery because the essence of the complete museum — a small, darkish room that shows a medieval Koran, a medieval ­Bible and a medieval Torah.

This may seem an uncommon presentation in Abu Dhabi, the place there are clear efforts to discourage spiritual and political symbols of Judaism. There aren’t any synagogues within the UAE, which permits a restricted variety of different non-Islamic locations of worship comparable to church buildings and Hindu temples. The Israeli flag has been banned from many worldwide sporting competitions.

“One of the most beautiful books we have is the Yemeni Torah,” Mubarak mentioned, referring to the merchandise on show, dated from 1498. “The message of balance and acceptance will be broadcast from this particular gallery.”


The exterior of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, seen at evening. (Mohamed Somji/Louvre Abu Dhabi)

Said Gabet: “The museum carries with it the best custom of French universalism and tolerance. By placing it in Abu Dhabi, one of many new hearts of the Middle East, the Louvre Abu Dhabi and its French and Emirati companions are displaying that the Arab world just isn’t confined to obscurantism. Moreover, it’s a type of optimism. We should consider in that. We should work for it.”

For now, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is sort of solely a French operation, though museum officers say that roughly half its workers are UAE residents. Its chief curator is a French man, whereas its deputy is an Emirati lady. Furthermore, it was a consortium of French public museums that procured the vast majority of the preliminary works to be displayed, and it’s this identical group, referred to as Agence France Muséums, that can coordinate the ability’s main exhibitions for the subsequent a number of years.

Asked whether or not an Emirati might in the future take the helm, Mubarak put it this manner: “When the time is right.”

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