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There may be trouble ahead…

How four museums deal with the thorny issues of globalism

The French minister of culture Aurélie Filippetti in Abu Dhabi


Last month, Aurélie Filippetti, the French minister of culture, announced that the Louvre Abu Dhabi will open on 2 December 2015, UAE’s National Day. It follows reports earlier this year of serious tensions in the working relationship with the Emirate. It was unhappy with Agence France-Muséums, the Paris-based organisation overseeing the partnership, for not being sufficiently engaged with the Gulf state in deciding on purchases and training Emirati staff. The new director of the Louvre, Jean-Luc Martinez, and 11 other presidents and directors of French museums accompanied Filippetti, underlining French commitment to its 30-year contract of cultural collaboration with Abu Dhabi.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Helsinki’s politicians are debating whether to create a satellite of the Guggenheim in the Finnish capital, to join the New York-based foundation’s family that includes branches in Venice, Bilbao and the mega-museum planned for Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, designed (like Bilbao) by the architect Frank Gehry. Over the past decade, several cities, from Guadalajara (above) to Taipei, have considered and then dropped plans to build satellites because, although the Guggenheim’s name and connections bring profile and prestige, the price tag for the project is usually hefty. Meanwhile, the museum’s director, Richard Armstrong, is also pursuing a non-building approach to international partnerships with sponsorship from UBS. Launched last year, the initiative means curators from South and Southeast Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa will work with the Guggenheim in New York and organise exhibitions that highlight art from their regions.

British Museum

The British Museum's director, Neil MacGregor (right), has made cultural diplomacy a priority since 2002—developing cordial relations with countries including Saudi Arabia, China and Iran. Dealing with long-standing claims for the return of artefacts from countries such as Greece and, more recently, Turkey have proved trickier. The institution's long-term global partnerships include projects with museums in India, Africa, the Middle East and the Far East. This month, the British Museum is sending one of its most historic artefacts, the Cyrus Cylinder, to Mumbai. Last year, 20 participants from across India were selected for intensive training with the British Museum.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Aware of the recent global initiatives launched by his peers, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas Campbell, plans to strengthen the institution's international relations by inviting a small group of fellow directors from across the world to come to New York for its first in-depth "colloquium" next year. Due to be hosted by the Met in the spring (7-18 April 2014), Campbell hopes that the directors of museums in Latin America, Africa and Asia in particular will attend. But Campbell, like his peers leading encyclopaedic museums, is wrestling with the thorny issue of claims to artefacts made by source countries, with all the politicking and reminders of historical economic and power imbalances this stirs up. The New York museum returned Khmer sandstone sculptures (right) to Cambodia earlier this year.

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