"Birth of a Museum: Louvre Abu Dhabi" is a presentation of
works from across the globe, part of the Abu Dhabi museum's
permanent collection which has been built up with the help of
advisers from the Paris Louvre.
Highlights include a gold bracelet decorated with lion heads
crafted in Iran nearly 3,000 years ago, a Virgin and child
painting by Giovanni Bellini and paintings by Pablo Picasso and
Backers hope the pieces, once returned to Abu Dhabi, will help
create a cultural hub in the Gulf Arab state.
There they will bask under a giant dome by architect Jean Nouvel
in a 64,000-square-meter (690,000-square-feet) museum, one of
three museums planned on an island near the center of Abu Dhabi,
the capital of the United Arab Emirates. They form part of a
wider plan to boost the tourist credentials of a country heavily
dependent on oil.
Although the deal to open a Gulf branch of the Louvre originally
sparked some concern that France was signing away its cultural
heritage, such worries were brushed aside as French President
Francois Hollande inaugurated the exhibition in Paris on
"For France, the Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi is an exceptional
building site," Hollande told the project's backers, including a
delegation from the UAE.
"It's the biggest cultural project that we're undertaking
abroad. It's also the most symbolic manifestation of the tight
partnership which binds us to the United Arab Emirates."
Exhibition curator Vincent Pomarede told Reuters the idea was to
create a diverse collection in which the visitor could trace
artistic developments across cultures and centuries.
"Their project is global," Pomarede said of the museum set for a
December 2015 opening. "The name of the Louvre is a mark of
quality for them, a mark of high standards of professionalism in
the teams who work there and the collections housed there."
Despite the comparatively conservative culture that prevails in
the UAE, Pomarede said French teams had not encountered
resistance when recommending the purchase of works of diverse
religious art or nudes from antiquity.
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"The question of censorship in the wider sense came up in our very
first meeting with them," Pomarede said.
"Their response was very clear ... 'We want to make a universal
museum, so we want there to be an exchange between different
civilizations and cultures so obviously there can be no censorship.'
And we never had any."
The Louvre is the world's most visited museum, attracting up to 10
million visitors annually, and the United Arab Emirates agreed to
pay 400-million-euros ($553 million) over 30 years to house a branch
in a deal signed with the French government in 2007.
The deal will further strengthen ties between the two countries. The
UAE is France's largest trading partner in the Middle East,
according to the foreign ministry, absorbing a third of French
exports to the region.
Abu Dhabi also hosts France's only military and naval base outside
of Africa, and the only French-speaking university in the Gulf, a
campus of Paris's Sorbonne university.
Conversely, the UAE ploughed some 2 billion euros into France during
2010, primarily in real estate, making it the top investor from the
Gulf Arab region, latest data shows.
The Louvre agreement includes sharing expertise in the acquisition
of works of art and curatorship, as well as training and
apprenticeships for future Emirati curators.
The exhibition in Paris, which runs through July 28, was shown
almost in its current form in the UAE in April last year.
(Additional reporting by John Irish; editing by Alexandria Sage,
Michael Roddy and Susan Fenton)
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