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Mon 13 May 2013 10:39 AM

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Abu Dhabi denies fallout with Louvre museum officials

Rebuttal comes after French media printed a leaked letter highlighting complaints about progress

Abu Dhabi denies fallout with Louvre museum officials
An artists impression of the Louvre Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi has denied there is any ill feeling between it and Louvre museum officials in Paris after a letter leaked to French media criticised the management of content for the museum and delays to a $30m Paris wing in honour of the founder of the UAE.

French newspaper Libération printed a letter it claimed was written on February 15 2012 by Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan, the chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA), to the then director of the Louvre, Henri Loyrette.

The leaked correspondence questioned why progress on a special public pavilion at the Paris museum in honour of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan had stalled, despite a $32m donation by Abu Dhabi in 2007 to fund its development.

Reports claimed the delay in the opening of the Sheikh Zayed pavilion was because the space currently houses the museum’s restoration and conservation centre and local French workers unions were reluctant to relocate staff to a new location.

The letter also claimed Abu Dhabi was unhappy with the speed and method at which art work was being procured by Agence France-Muséums (AFM), the agency with responsibility for content for the museum under construction at Saadiyat Island.

Of the $50m a year paid by Abu Dhabi for artwork, the letter claimed more than $1m was being used for travel and expenses by AFM staff.

The reports also claimed the Emiratis felt they had not been sufficiently consulted on what artwork would be chosen for the museum and complained the AFM had not begun training of local Emirati specialists to manage the museum when it opens in 2016.

In a statement to Arabian Business, a TCA spokesperson did not deny the existence of the letter but said the reports were “based on inaccurate and outdated information” and add that “TCA Abu Dhabi’s relationship with both Agence France-Muséums and Louvre is very professional.”

The TCA pointed to the ‘Birth of a Museum’ exhibition, which is running at the Manarat Al Saadiyat exhibition centre on Saadiyat Island and is the first large-scale presentation of the Louvre Abu Dhabi's permanent collection, as evidence of the progress that has been made between the French and Emirati agencies.

“[The exhibition] is a superb illustration of the progress of the Louvre Abu Dhabi and its outstanding collection. A series of public programmes scheduled monthly in Abu Dhabi also reflects the ongoing, successful and productive co-operation between Abu Dhabi and French parties,” the spokesperson added.

This month the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) began work on the distinctive dome on Louvre Abu Dhabi, the first of three iconic museums planned for Saadiyat Island. Work on the dome is expected to be completed by the end of 2014, news agency WAM reported.

The dome which has a diameter of 180 metres and is expected to weigh more than 7,000 tonnes - almost the weight of the Eiffel Tower, will be supported in four points only. The dome will rest nine metres high at the entrance of the museum and will reach up to 30 metres high on the inside.

The design concept behind the laced dome is to reflect the interlaced palm trees traditionally used as roofing material in the region, allowing the sun to shine through like "a rain of light". The museum, which will be surrounded with water, gives the illusion of a floating structure.

TDIC this month reported a AED2.15bn ($585m) net loss in 2012 despite a 280 percent rise in revenue. TDIC said revenue reached AED1.27bn last year on the back of property sales and leasing, adding that the company expects sales to be even stronger this year.

Last year, the Abu Dhabi government confirmed the opening dates for the museums planned in the Saadiyat Cultural District - Louvre Abu Dhabi is set to open in 2015, Zayed National Museum in 2016 and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi in 2017.

Supporter of the UAE 6 years ago

I visited the Manarat Museum in Saadiyat, which is displaying an introduction of the Louvre Abu Dhabi exhibition.

I strongly feel that the team of curators/collectors from France that are procuring pieces for the Louvre ABU DHABI should be replaced, completely!!!

The collection is whitewashed and does not reflect the old world, beautiful and rich culture of Arabia, Persia and the Far East.