When architecture really is pure art

Abu Dhabi's Louvre irritated the French, here’s why they should be grateful

I honestly believe that the establishment of the Louvre in the UAE is one of the most exciting things we have to look forward to in the region over the next five years.

This magnificent building will offer a cultural injection, which the country believes it needs – and more importantly one that it is happy to pay millions of dollars to achieve – and bring yet another architectural spectacle to the country.

You might have expected artists and art lovers around the world to have celebrated.

So, I was a little surprised to see objections from the French intelligentsia, some of whom began complaining on the day the deal to use the sacred museum’s name was signed in 2007.

Angry art historians were objecting to Abu Dhabi handing over a staggering $523 million to use the Louvre's name. That was just for the name mind - on top of that, it will stump up more than $700m to ‘borrow’ works of art to show during the 30-year agreement.

They argued ‘art is not for sale’ and more than 4,000 art historians and 'museum experts' signed a petition accusing the Louvre of ‘acting like a corporation’.

That was the bit that made me chuckle. If there is one thing western Europe should have learned in the past five years it’s that you cannot rely on the public purse to look after art any more. Put simply: the public aren’t prepared to pay out of their taxes any longer (the 2009 lesson for all, which ironically also delayed building work here).

So, far from criticising the UAE’s financial support, those who love and support art should welcome the move, with open arms.

The real irony of course is that with its wealth, a more aggressive Abu Dhabi could simply begin buying up the world’s treasures collecting the finest for itself anyway.

Enough speculation, let’s look at the museum construction itself on Saadiyat Island. This week’s story, which takes a detailed look at the underground water protection, offers a fascinating insight into not only the technical skills of the people behind this amazing building.

Arguably Jean Nouvel’s vision, with its floating canopy allowing dappled sunlight to shine through, should be enough to guarantee icon status for the building. But its placement demanding the most technically demanding waterproofing ever seen in the region with storage basements that will contain priceless items shows an audacity which arguably outshines the Burj Khalifa and even Dubai's Palms.

I do not believe any other country in the world would dream up such an audacious plan, then have the courage to follow it through.

Better than that, you just know it’s going to work and within a few months of opening we will all simply accept it as a reality and forget the technical genius that brought the Louvre to the Middle East and simply accept that it exists ...and those priceless artworks are safe.

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Posted by: JCR

I think it is an outreage to want to copy french heritage in the gulf...why dont they come up with their own museum showing the national culutre and heritage...oh wait there is none that why they have to steal it from the French...being French i totally disagree with this iniative!

Posted by: Tee

Uhhhhh...The single biggest draw at the Louvre is...Italian. And the most iconic structure of the museum complex is based on a 5000-year-old design from Egypt and was designed by a Chinese-American.

Being French, I'm sure you know quite well that countries and cultures grow and prosper by borrowing and learning from other cultures.

There is an exhibition going on right now at Saadiyat Island (future home of the Louvre) that displays a bit of the pieces that will be housed in the museum soon. They include everything from a medieval French statue of Jesus on the cross, to Mughal art, a Picasso, Islamic calligraphy and pottery, and even a medieval Copy of the Torah! In a Muslim country!

You don't realize how revolutionary this initiative is. There is literally nothing like it in the Gulf. My hope is that it will broaden the horizons of the people living here and help us all learn and grow. You, as a Frenchman, should be proud of the role your country will play in this.

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