The much anticipated Louvre Abu Dhabi opened to the public on Saturday November 11, with a spectacular week-long series of celebrations. It is the first museum of its kind in the Arab region and offers a new perspective on the history of art in a globalised world.
An iconic architectural masterpiece designed by Jean Nouvel, it is located on the waterfront in Abu Dhabi’s cultural district on Saadiyat Island. The inaugural installation in its spacious collection galleries presents 600 works of art, half from its own rich holdings, and half consisting of stellar works visiting from its 13 partner museums in France. The museum will also begin an ongoing programme of special exhibitions in December.
Architect Jean Nouvel has designed 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.
Louvre Abu Dhabi is the result of a unique collaboration between Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and France.
The museum’s collection spans the history of humanity and it explores a universal narrative through artworks and artefacts from all over the world. The inaugural installation will take visitors on a chronological journey from prehistory to the present day, encompassing 12 chapters including the birth of the first villages; universal religions; cosmography; the magnificence of the royal court; and the modern world.
Presented across 6,400 square metres of galleries, the museum’s growing collection includes more than 600 important artworks and artefacts, approximately half of which will be presented for the opening year. It includes ancient archaeological finds, decorative arts, neoclassical sculptures, paintings by modern masters and contemporary installations.
Ancient masterpieces from the collection include a Bactrian Princess created in Central Asia at the end of the 3rd millennium BCE, a Grecian sphinx from the 6th century BCE and an Iranian gold bracelet in the shape of a lion.
Visitors encounter works from universal religions, including sacred texts such as a Leaf from the “Blue Quran”and a Gothic Bible, as well as a Standing Bodhisattva from the 2nd or 3rd century and a white marble Head of Buddha from China.
Highlights from later periods include an ancient astrolabe, part of a display showing the science of cosmography; a red Chinese lacquer chest of drawers produced in France by Bernard II van Risenburgh, which shows the cross cultural inspirations born from global trade routes; and Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna and Child, representing the emergence of religious art and iconography.
Works such as a Bronze Oba head from the Benin Kingdom and Jacob Jordaens’ The Good Samaritan demonstrate the magnificence of royal courts around the world.
A series of iconic paintings captures the emergence of the modern world, including Gustave Caillebotte’s Game of Bezique, Edouard Manet’s The Gypsy, Paul Gauguin’s Children Wrestling, Osman Hamdi Bey’s A Young Emir Studying, Piet Mondrian’s Composition with Blue, Red, Yellow and Black, René Magritte’s The Subjugated Reader and Pablo Picasso’s Portrait of a Lady.
The museum’s contemporary art collection has nine canvases by Cy Twombly and a monumental sculpture by renowned international artist Ai Weiwei. As part of an ongoing programme of commissions, Jenny Holzer and Giuseppe Penone have created monumental site specific installations, exhibited under the dome in open air and embedded in Louvre Abu Dhabi’s architecture.
Sharing art and expertise
As part of the intergovernmental agreement between the UAE and France, Louvre Abu Dhabi has access to expertise and training from 17 French partner institutions. It will also benefit from the ability to borrow works of art from 13 leading French museums for 10 years and from special exhibitions organised by these institutions for 15 years.
Manuel Rabaté, Director of Louvre Abu Dhabi, said: “Louvre Abu Dhabi sets a benchmark for the region, attracting the next generation of talented museum professionals. It has reinvented the 18th-century premise of the universal museum for a demanding contemporary audience. In a complex multi-narrative world, these ideas are more important than ever. By exhibiting works from diverse cultures in the same space, our curation shows the interconnectedness of different ideologies, aesthetics and artistic techniques. The museum story transports visitors through a history of humanity illuminated by our collection of exceptional treasures.”
The Children’s Museum at Louvre Abu Dhabi is also open to the public. This is an exploratory space providing the opportunity to engage with artworks from Louvre Abu Dhabi’s collection to young visitors (aged 6-12) and their families. It presents its own special exhibitions, with artworks displayed in specially designed cases at children’s eye level and interactive mediation tools. With a range of immersive and interactive zones, the Children’s Museum offers a programme of hands-on activities and educational workshops.
In addition to its 23 permanent galleries, special exhibition space and Children’s Museum, Louvre Abu Dhabi features a 270-seat auditorium, restaurant, boutique and café.
Opening hours for the museum galleries and exhibitions are: Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday: 10 am-8 pm; Thursday and Friday: 10 am-10 pm. Last entry and purchase of tickets is 30 minutes prior to closing. The museum is closed on Mondays.
Tickets to the museum cost 60 AED for general admission and 30 AED for visitors aged 13–22, as well as UAE education professionals.
Free entry will apply to children under 13 years, ICOM or ICOMOS members, journalists and visitors with special needs as well as their companion.