September 15, 2017



By Anoop Kamath

There is good news if you visiting Dubai or Abu Dhabi in November. Louvre Abu Dhabi will open with a grand VIP preview on November 11, 2017.

Born from an intergovernmental agreement between Abu Dhabi and France in 2007, Louvre Abu Dhabi and its universal story embodies the spirit of openness and dialogue among cultures, displaying works of historical, cultural and sociological significance from different times and civilisations. Once open, the museum’s permanent collection, as well as important loaned artworks from prestigious French institutions, will form an art historical narrative taking the visitor from ancient times to the contemporary through 23 permanent galleries in 12 sequences.

Pritzker-prize winning architect Jean Nouvel has sought inspiration for the concept of Louvre Abu Dhabi in traditional Arabic architectural culture. Applying a contextual approach to the site, the Louvre Abu Dhabi has been designed as a ‘museum city’ in the sea, with its contrasting series of 55 white buildings, including 23 galleries inspired by the medina and low-lying Arab settlements, a temporary exhibition space, a Children’s Museum, a 200-seater-auditorium, a restaurant, a café, and retail.

The 180 metre-wide dome covers the majority of the museum and becomes an iconic structure visible from the sea, the surrounding areas and Abu Dhabi city. The eight-layered dome is made up of four outer stainless steel layers and four inner layers separated by a steel structure five meters in height. The structure is made up of 85 super-sized elements, weighing on average 50 tonnes.

The dome’s complex pattern is the result of a highly studied geometric design, repeated at various sizes and angles in the eight superimposed layers. Each ray of light must penetrate the eight layers before appearing then disappearing, creating a cinematic effect as the sun’s path progresses throughout the day. Named the ‘rain of light’, this effect has been the subject of many models and mock ups over the years and is one of the defining features of the museum.

The dome is supported by only four permanent piers, each 110 metres apart and hidden within the museum buildings, giving the impression that the dome is floating. The interior dome elevation is 29 metres from ground floor level to the underside of the interior dome cladding. The highest point of the dome is 40 metres above sea level and 36 meters above ground floor level.

The museum design is a collaboration between traditional culture and modern construction techniques. Once open, the tranquil museum environment will encourage the museum visitor to enjoy the ever-changing relationship between the sun, dome, sea, buildings and land.

The dome will primarily act as a shading canopy to protect the outdoor plaza and the buildings below from the heat of the sun, providing local comfort and reducing building energy consumption. This strategy allows visitors to circulate outdoors between the museum galleries, exhibitions, Children’s Museum, open plaza, café and restaurant. 

The interior exhibition spaces, comprising the museum galleries, exhibitions and Children’s Museum, make up 8,600 square metres. The Museum Galleries incorporate approximately 6,400 square meters and will showcase more than 600 artworks, of which 300 loans from the French partner museums at the opening of the museum. The collection will present a universal art history narrative that encompasses a wide range of cultures, traditions and époques.

The temporary exhibition space contains approximately 2,000 square metres dedicated to rotating exhibitions that will periodically provide a new subject or theme for the visitor to explore. The Children’s Museum completes the ensemble with approximately 200 square metres specially laid out for the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s youngest visitors, providing interactive exhibitions with real artworks specifically curated to be enjoyed by children and families.

Louvre Abu Dhabi’s collection spans human history, emphasising exchange and shared human experience. The dialogue between artworks, manuscripts and objects in Louvre Abu Dhabi’s collection, from the most ancient to the most contemporary enables visitors to discover shared influences and intriguing connections between different cultures throughout history.

The museum trail, highlighting universal themes and common influences, transcending geography, nationality and history, begins with prehistory, the birth of civilisations and the first great empires. It explores concepts such as religion, exchange across trade routes, voyages and discoveries, the role of the individual in history and contemporary themes related to the modern period and globalisation.

Notable artworks in the collection include one of the finest examples of a standing Bactrian Princess from the end of the 3rd millennium BCE, a 3,000 year old Middle-Eastern gold bracelet with lion’s head, an 1878 painting by Osman Hamdi Bey titled A Young Emir Studying, Paul Gauguin’s masterpiece Children Wrestling, the René Magritte painting The Subjugated Reader, an 1928 collage by Picasso titled Portrait of a Lady,  nine canvases by contemporary artist Cy Twombly and the most ancient known photographic representation of a veiled woman.

In the opening year, approximately 300 artworks from 13 key French institutions will be on display alongside the museum’s permanent collection. These will include Leonardo da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronnière and a Spanish fountain spout of a lion said to be from Monzonfrom musée du Louvre, Claude Monet’s Saint-Lazare station and Edouard Manet’s The Fife Player both from musée d’Orsay, Henri Matisse’s Still Life with Magnolia (1941) from Centre Pompidou, Globe by Vincenzo Coronelli from Bibliothèque nationale de France, a rare saltcellar in ivory from the Benin Kingdom and a Baga D’mba mask from Guinea from musée du quai Branly.

Temporary exhibitions will be presented four times throughout the year in a separate space, ensuring that returning visitors will always find something new to discover. As part of the intergovernmental agreement, these will be developed in collaboration with partner French museums. In some cases, encompassing works from several institutions. The first temporary exhibition will be based on the gradual creation of Musée du Louvre from the late 17th century to 1793.

The three main languages of Louvre Abu Dhabi are Arabic, English and French and they will all be used throughout the museum. In each of the main galleries, introductory panels will offer a historical and social context to the artworks, while labels next to the artworks will explain the individual object’s place within a gallery theme and outline technical information. Animated maps will offer geographical references and timelines.

Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority currently oversees the full project, from non-construction related activities such as acquisitions and operations to visitor experience.

Tourism Development & Investment Company is the master developer of Saadiyat Island and other major tourism destinations which embrace Abu Dhabi’s heritage and culture while preserving its natural beauty and resources.  As part of the Cultural District on Saadiyat Island, TDIC is developing three major museums including the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Agence France-Muséums is an organisation that was established for the realisation of Louvre Abu Dhabi and in partnership with main French cultural institutions and museums. AFM has been entrusted with the task of carrying through the commitments of France to the project of the universal museum of the Louvre Abu Dhabi and structuring the expertise of the French cultural institutions involved. It provides consultancy services to the authorities of the United Arab Emirates including definition of the scientific and cultural programme; assistance in project management for architecture including Museography, signage and multimedia projects; coordination of the loans from French collections and organisation of temporary exhibition; creation of a permanent collection; and support with the museum’s policy on visitors.

Musée du Louvre, Paris: Formed through an intergovernmental agreement between Abu Dhabi and France, the name of the Louvre in Paris is loaned for a period of 30 years and 6 months. The loan of temporary exhibitions for a period of 15 years and the loan of artworks for 10 years.

Director of Louvre Abu Dhabi
Manuel Rabaté is the Director of Louvre Abu Dhabi. Born in March 1976, Manuel Rabaté is a graduate of the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po, 1998), and of HEC Business School (2001). He began his career as a Deputy Director at the auditorium of the Musée du Louvre from 2002 until 2005. He participated among other things in the creation of new programmes on Islamic Arts in the context of the first performance contract concluded between the French government and the museum for its modernisation. He joined the Musée du quai Branly as a Deputy Director of Cultural Development a year before its opening in 2006, and structured the administrative and financial management of many key issues for the opening. After the opening, he led the launching of the first exhibitions abroad including ‘Masques - Beauté des Esprits’ exhibition at the Bahrain National Museum, 2008. Manuel Rabaté joined Agence France-Muséums in 2008, a year after the signing of the intergovernmental agreement between France and the United Arab Emirates marking the birth of the Louvre Abu Dhabi project. Subsequently, he has followed the project from its conceptual phase until its operational implementation as a Secretary General and the acting CEO since 2010. He was appointed CEO of Agence France-Museums in 2013 under the proposal of the Board of Directors and its Chairman, Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière, to set up in Abu Dhabi a multidisciplinary team of museum professionals and follow through the phases of the project realization in collaboration with the major French museums and their UAE partners.

In September 2016, Manuel Rabaté was appointed Director of Louvre Abu Dhabi by Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi). Aside from his duties in the service of museums, Manuel Rabaté has also chaired the reflection group-Culture & Management, in which he had created the museum department. He has also taught Arts and Cultural Management at various universities in France and Abu Dhabi (Paris-Dauphine University, Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi since the establishment of the Master in History of Art and Museum Studies).

Photography Mohamed Somji