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Louvre Abu Dhabi: A narrative that shows humans are more similar than they think

Museum reflects a vision of the emirate that sees diversity, acceptance as incubators of prosperity, progress

By Mahmoud Al Abed - Nov 11,2017 - Last updated at Nov 11,2017

Busts showing five empires on display inside Louvre Abu Dhabi (Photo courtesy of Louvre Abu Dhabi)

ABU DHABI, UAE –– The planners who had the vision to establish another edition of the Louvre in Abu Dhabi wanted the landmark museum to reflect what the emirate is about: diversity, acceptance, understanding and achievement.

“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…” said Chairman of the Department of Culture & Tourism and Tourism Development and Investment Company Mohamed Al Mubrak at a press conference last week, addressing dozens of international press members who attended a special event to introduce the Louvre Abu Dhabi to the world after 10 years of preparations. 

“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.”

And the world has been generous with Abu Dhabi, loaning its Louvre a magnificent collection of artworks, including the famous two-headed statue from Ain Ghazal in Jordan, that were displayed to express a narrative showing how humanity is, in essence, a group of similar people who share so much in common despite the differences on the surface. 

The museum’s interior, embraced by an iconic dome that amplifies the concept of universality characterising a narrative featured by the museum’s collection (Photo courtesy of Louvre Abu Dhabi)

Three almost identical golden masks from three presumably unconnected cultures show how human beings can be likeminded. The same applies to how people perceive religion, glorify kings and immortalise different aspects of their lives through art

For Jean Luc Martinez, president-director of Musée du Louvre and chairman of the Scientific Board of Agence France Muséums, the museum, which “could be considered as the most ambitious cultural project of the early 21st century”, carries a “message of openness, which is critical for our era”.

The collection, according to the museum’s literature, “spans the history of humanity and explores a universal narrative through artworks and artefacts from all over the world”, taking visitors on a journey through time from prehistory to the modern world, encompassing 12 chapters that cover the birth of the first villages; universal religions; cosmography; the magnificence of the royal court; and the modern world.

With 6,400 square metres of galleries, the collection features more than 600 significant artworks and artefacts, including ancient archaeological finds, decorative arts, neoclassical sculptures, paintings by modern artists and contemporary installations.

The design of Louvre Abu Dhabi also reflects this universality. With an iconic dome umbrellaing the various components of the facility as the most impressive feature of the place’s architecture, the Louvre stands out as a unique entity that is anything but a mirror image of Paris’ Louvre. 

At the press conference, Jean Nouvel, the Pritzker-winning French architect who designed the building, said: “Louvre Abu Dhabi embodies an exceptional programme in the literal sense of the word. Its vocation is now to express what is universal throughout the ages. Its architecture makes it a place of convergence and correlation between the immense sky, the sea horizon and the territory of the desert. Its dome and cupola imprint the space with the consciousness of time and of the moment through an evocative light of a spirituality that is its own.”

According to the literature, Nouvel has designed the $108 million Louvre Abu Dhabi as a museum city (medina), which combines traditional Arabic inspiration with contemporary design and cutting edge energy-efficient engineering. Visitors can walk along promenades overlooking the sea underneath the iconic dome, comprised of 7,850 unique metal stars set in a complex geometric pattern. When sunlight filters through, it creates a moving “rain of light”, reminiscent of the overlapping palm trees in the UAE’s oases. 

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