By TravelSmart Bureau
Abu Dhabi is set to open its prestigious Louvre Abu Dhabi museum on Novermbe 11, the result of an unprecedented inter-governmental agreement that kick-started the project over a decade ago.
The much-anticipated announcement was made to the world’s media by the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s director, Manuel Rabaté, and Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA).
“Abu Dhabi has put its hand on its heart and said that the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s messages are ones that it wants to send to the rest of the world: messages of unity, acceptance, connectivity and tolerance,” he said.
“These were messages that were important 1,000 years ago but are even more important today and Abu Dhabi is the beacon that will broadcast these messages to the Arab world and to the rest of the world.”
When it opens, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will not only become the first universal museum in the Arab world, but it also promises to take a unique approach to the history of art and humanity.
Visitors will be invited to embark on a chronological journey through human creativity that begins in pre-history, with the development of some of the earliest stone tools to display a concern with design as well as functionality, and ends with the museum’s contemporary commissions; works of art made specially for the Louvre Abu Dhabi that point to histories yet to be written.
The difference, the museum’s creators promise, is that the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s approach will be one that values all civilisations equally, and emphasises moments of contact and connection between cultures, displaying their artefacts in dialogue, side-by-side, rather than emphasising their differences.
This story investigates the birth of a collection and a curatorial approach that attempts to be both universal and singular.
Speaking to an audience at Abu Dhabi’s Manarat Al Saadiyat in January 2017, the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s director, Manuel Rabaté, outlined the curatorial direction of the Middle East’s first universal museum:
“We will talk about all civilisations from the beginning of history to the globalised situation we live in today,” Rabaté explained.
“And this will be the first time that visitors will be given the opportunity to experience a universal narrative from the very beginnings of beauty in pre-history that always has artworks and civilisations in co-visibility and co-existence.”
Not only did this way of thinking have an influence on the works that had been acquired for the museum’s permanent collection, for which 600 objects had been acquired by March 2017, but it will also be seen most visibly in the way the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s collection is exhibited and interpreted.
“The aim is to create a universal perspective on things, not from a western or an eastern perspective, but from Abu Dhabi’s position as a crossroads,” Jean-François Charnier, the scientific director of Agence France-Muséums, the body charged with establishing the Louvre Abu Dhabi and its collections, alongside Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA), explained in 2014.
“If you want to understand the links, for example, between ancient Egypt and the Near East in antiquity in other museums you would have to go to different departments but in Louvre Abu Dhabi, there are no more departments [of this sort],” he added.
“We want to show important artworks and masterpieces in dialogue, and that is something new in the world of museums. We will not only be showing paintings with paintings or sculpture with sculpture or Near Eastern with Near Eastern. We are trying to cross all of these elements to try to tell a different story”.
Just what that new museum’s displays might like look like became clear in April 2014, with the launch of the Birth of a Museum exhibition at the Louvre Museum in Paris, in which 160 objects from the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s permanent collection were presented to the museum’s curators and the French public for the first time.
For example, in a thematic display that investigated the various ways in which different cultures visualised the divine, statues of deities from the Hindu, Christian and Buddhist traditions were displayed next to work from the 13th-century Soninke dynasty, which was founded in the Sahelian kingdom of Ghana, in a manner that would normally only be seen in temporary exhibitions in more-traditional museums.
Curated by Vincent Pomarède, director of mediation and cultural programming at the Louvre Museum in Paris; Laurence des Cars, the former curatorial director of Agence France-Muséums who is now director of the Musée d’Orsay; and, TCA’s Khalid Abdulkhaliq Abdulla, the show built on a similar exhibition from 2013, also entitled Birth of a Museum.