Museums

Works from the Louvre Abu Dhabi

As the date for the opening of the great museum draws near, Emirati citizens talk on video about the work of art that speaks to them most

Anna Somers Cocks

In a project conceived by The Art Newspaper and backed by the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, a series of videos have been made of Emirati citizens talking about their choice of a work of art from Louvre Abu Dhabi’s permanent collection. They range from the United Arab Emirates (UAE)’ Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, to young art students, via businessmen and women.

Ten years ago, when the museum was announced, a noisy group in the West said that there would be no interest in such a project “down there”: the Emiratis are people of the desert, with no artistic tradition and a religion that prohibits art, were the objections. And while exposure to art had indeed been limited at that point, the situation is very different today, with the UAE the hub of the Middle Eastern art world and interest in the rest of the world rampant there.These short, unscripted videos prove the sceptics wrong, and as with all stereotypes, the crude misconception fades away when confronted by the reality.

Louvre Abu Dhabi is the first universal museum outside the Western world, and after 10 years in the making, it will open to the public at the end of the year. Through art and an educational programme that links in with schools and universities, it aims to teach that the world is infinitely rich precisely because of its variety and that people from different cultures can communicate with one another and share new perspectives on the modern world through art.

This is the opposite of what is happening in some societies, which are closing down in hostility to one other, and it expresses the desire of the UAE today to live according to the tolerant and inclusive ideas of the founding father and first president of the country, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

Louvre Abu Dhabi is a spectacular building by the French architect Jean Nouvel that houses the 300 masterpieces that have already been bought for it by Abu Dhabi, as well as many loans of great works of art from the Louvre in Paris and other great museums of France. It is conceived as an oasis, a metaphor for those life-giving places in the desert where travellers meet and interact. Abu Dhabi may be “down there” in relationship to the West, but it is centre-stage in relationship to the nations and economies that are rising up, and Louvre Abu Dhabi is sure to be an influential and challenging player.