The much-awaited Louvre Abu Dhabi finally opened its doors on November 11 with a week-long celebration that was as extra as you would expect from the oil-rich metropolis. The first museum of its kind in the Arab region, it may be located in the Saadiyat Island (500 meters off the coast of Abu Dhabi) but the Louvre Abu Dhabi is meant to be every bit as universal as you can get.
Having been built in collaboration with the government of France has allowed the museum the use of the “Louvre” name for 30 years as well as access to expertise and training from 17 French art institutions; 13 of which will be lending artwork for the next 10 years. To date, Louvre Abu Dhabi houses more than 600 works, along with 300 on loan from the 13 French museums.
Spread across the museum’s 23 galleries, the artworks are divided into sections based on the history of civilizations. As the tagline of the museum suggests, Louvre Abu Dhabi aims to take its visitors to “see humanity in a new light.” The sections are organized chronologically so as to narrate the journey of mankind, from prehistory to the present day. “It carries a message of openness, which is critical for our era,” says Jean-Luc Martinez, President-Director of Musée du Louvre and Chairman of the Scientific Board of Agence France-Muséums, in an official statement.
One of the first sections, for example, displays works of art from the first villages and kingdoms, including statues of a Bactrian "Princess" (end of 3rd or beginning of 2nd millennium B.C.E.) King Ramses II (1279–1213 B.C.) and Gudea, the Prince of Lagash (2120 B.C.).
As the “journey” reaches a more modern time, the museum makes way to classic paintings like Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna and Child (between 1480-1485), Leonardo da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronnière (1495-1499), Vincent Van Gogh’s Self-portrait (1887) Osman Hamdi Bey’s A Young Emir Studying (1878), Paul Gauguin’s Children Wrestling (1888), Piet Mondrian’s Composition with Blue, Red, Yellow and Black (1922), René Magritte’s The Subjugated Reader (1928) and many more.
The last section offers a look into contemporary art, where Ai Weiwei’s Fountain of Light (2016) is kept. Assembled from stainless steel and glass, the installation is seven meters tall and inspired by the Tatlin’s Tower, a planned-but-never-built Russian monument. An architectural project of utopian proportion, Tatlin’s Tower itself has often been compared with the Tower of Babel. The fact that the museum has commissioned this installation is somewhat interesting, considering Louvre Abu Dhabi’s mission to present a miniature of a unified world through their artworks. On one hand, does this mean the museum recognizes the ambitious nature of the mission and sees it as something that occurs in a utopian world? Or maybe the installation represents a more optimistic view, where cultures are able to meet in the same place despite differences?
As is always the case when an observer is faced with an artwork, the answer is open to interpretation.