March 7, 2007
Ending months of speculation and controversy, the governments
of France and Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates,
signed an agreement yesterday that will create a Persian Gulf
outpost of the Louvre. The French museum will occupy architect
Jean Nouvel's contribution to the Saadiyat Island Cultural
District, a collection of high-profile art museums and cultural
spaces planned for an undeveloped strip of land just off the
shore of Abu Dhabi.
The 30-year agreement is reported to be worth nearly $1.3
billion. Under its terms, Abu Dhabi will use the Louvre's
name and receive artworks on loan from it as well as other
French institutions including the Musée du Quai Branly,
Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée d'Orsay, and the Château
The Louvre will occupy a 260,000-square-foot space originally
tagged as a "classical arts museum" when plans for
Saadiyat Cultural District were unveiled in late January.
Nouvel designed a small village of one-room galleries, covering
it with an umbrella-like roof that will measure 590 feet wide
and 80 feet high. This structure will be intricately perforated
with an Islamic-style filigree, casting dappled shadows below.
"I think it's Jean Nouvel's best building ever,"
Thomas Krens, director of the Guggenheim Foundation and one
of Saadiyat's planners, told RECORD in January. "It's
The new Louvre branch is expected to open in 2012. Word of
the deal between France and Abu Dhabi began circulating last
fall, sparking protests among leading French intellectuals
and museum directors who contended that the nation was "selling
its soul." More than 4,000 people signed a petition to
protest what they felt was the government's use of artwork
for "political, diplomatic and financial reasons."
Henri Loyrette, who heads the Louvre, responded in the French
press that money is not the driving force behind the museum's
overseas operations, and that it will only loan artworks until
Abu Dhabi's new institution has built up its own collection.
In addition to the Louvre, the Saadiyat Cultural District
will include a Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim outpost, as
well as buildings by Tadao Ando and Zaha Hadid. Krens, who
worked with Abu Dhabi's Tourism Investment and Development
Company on this project, explained that the Persian Gulf state
wants to become the region's leading arts and culture destination.
"The Middle East is an obvious place for this, let's
call it, alternative diplomacy," Krens said. "I
think it's just about to gather momentum."