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At long last, the spectacular new Louvre Abu Dhabi will open this fall

Globetrotting arts and culture lovers, if you’re looking for a new destination to add to your bucket list, it’s high time to put Abu Dhabi at the top. Why? Because the UAE government has just announced that the long-awaited Louvre Abu Dhabi will finally welcome its first visitors this fall — with the official opening slated for 11 November 2017.

Louvre Abu Dhabi - exterior
Image credit: Mohamed Somji

The first overseas outpost of the Louvre — the world’s largest art museum — has been a long time in the making. It’s been 10 years, in fact, since the signing of the intergovernmental agreement between the United Arab Emirates and France, which includes the loan of the Musée du Louvre name for 30 years and six months (controversially costing US$525 million, or HK$4.1 billion, just for the privilege), temporary exhibitions for 15 years, and artwork loans for 10 years.

The agreement between the two countries particularly taps into the expertise and support of the Agence France-Muséums. This means that 13 of the most important French museums will collaborate with the new Louvre Abu Dhabi, making it the place to view some of the Louvre’s most important exhibitions in addition to rare loans, with a few highlights including Leonardo da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronnière from the Louvre, Vincent Van Gogh’s self-portrait from Musée d’Orsay et de l’Orangerie, and Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps from the Chateau de Versailles.

Louvre Abu Dhabi - van gogh
Vincent Van Gogh, “Self-portrait,” (1887), © Musée d’Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

The new museum is no doubt one of the most ambitious cultural projects in the world, so naturally, it had to have a structure worthy of housing all these masterpieces. The challenging task was handed to Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, who designed the museum in the style of an Arab medina (or city). It took an estimated US$108 million (HK$844 million) to build, a relative fraction of what it cost to use the Louvre name.

Louvre Abu Dhabi - under the dome
Image credit: Mohamed Somji

Under a vast silver dome, you’ll meander through its galleries and around the museum, with promenades connecting different buildings, all the while overlooking sapphire waters that stretch to the ocean. Underground, there’ll be a service tunnel connecting Louvre Abu Dhabi, Zayed National Museum — the UAE’s first national museum — and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, spanning a length of more than 1 km. (The latter two have yet to open.)

The most remarkable feature of the museum is the 180-metre dome, which alone took two years to complete. The dome is made up of almost 8,000 unique metal stars strewn across a geometric pattern, creating a “rain of light” effect as sunlight filters through eight layers of cladding to create patterns that bring to mind the shadows cast by overlapping palm trees in the UAE’s desert oases. Throughout the day, this light effect moves as the sun’s path progresses, and at night, the dome transforms into a night sky where each individual star is visible both indoors and outside the museum.

Louvre Abu Dhabi - interior
Image credit: Mohamed Somji

Supported only by four permanent piers which are hidden within the buildings, you get the impression that the dome itself is floating in mid-air. From the outside, the museum looks palatial and positively otherworldly with its modern, yet timeless, aesthetic that wouldn’t look out of place in the ancient cities and civilisations you’ll learn more about inside the museum.

Undoubtedly one of the structure’s most gorgeous features, the dome also serves a practical purpose. Not only does it act as a shading canopy, but it also incorporates passive design techniques that enhance natural cooling, helping to reduce the building’s energy consumption.

Louvre Abu Dhabi -
Red lacquer dresser (c. 1753-1756); © Louvre Abu Dhabi / Thierry Ollivier

As for the exhibits you can look forward to, Louvre Abu Dhabi aims to change up how traditional museology has presented works in the past. Aside from special exhibitions, permanent collections will take the visitor through 23 galleries in 12 sequences, from ancient civilisations to the contemporary; temporary exhibits will be showcased four times a year. Yes, it will exhibit pieces from France’s top museums throughout all of human history, but the difference is that it will curate according to universal themes that exist across civilisations such as fertility or funerary practices, rather than the tradition of separating exhibits according to their origin. With this, Louvre Abu Dhabi is demonstrating a firm belief in diversity, in an effort to emphasise just how interconnected the world has always been.

Apart from numerous exhibition galleries (where the choice of stone paving corresponds to the period of the artworks on show) there’ll also be a children’s museum, a restaurant, boutique and café.

As Françoise Nyssen, the French Minister of Culture, said to the press: “The Louvre Abu Dhabi will indeed offer visitors a unique experience: a brand new journey through major works of art from different civilisations, mirrored to reveal our common humanity. The Louvre Abu Dhabi therefore carries a message of tolerance and peace and stresses the unwavering commitment of our two countries to promote culture and education as a shield against extremism.”

Leonardo da Vinci, “Woman Portrait, also called La Belle Ferronnière,” (1495-1499) © Musée du Louvre, C2RMF / T. Clot

Set to become game changers in the Middle East (and the entire globe) on presenting cultural diversity, the Chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) and Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak adds, “Louvre Abu Dhabi will inspire a new generation of cultural leaders and creative thinkers to contribute to our rapidly-changing and tolerant nation.”

The first special exhibition “From One Louvre to Another”, which debuts at the museum on 21 December 2017 will tell the story of Musée du Louvre in Paris, from King Louis XIV’s royal collections at Versailles to the establishment of the Academy and Salons, all the way up to the present day, including the creation and evolution of the iconic Parisian museum.

Louvre Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE; Museum tickets will cost AED60 (HK$127) for general admission; AED30 for those aged between 13-22 and UAE education professionals. Free entry will apply to members of the museum’s loyalty programme, children under 13 years, ICOM or ICOMOS members, journalists, and visitors with special needs (referred to visitors with determination in the UAE) as well as their companion.

Evelyn Lok
Managing Editor
When not trying out the latest beauty and wellness trends, Evelyn is likely enjoying a perfectly balanced negroni or exploring some of Hong Kong's best new places to eat and drink. At Lifestyle Asia she covers everything from the biggest events in town to interviews with Hong Kong specialists, with topics spanning art, food and drink, health, tech, and travel.