The spanking-new Louvre Abu Dhabi opened this past Saturday to much international acclaim and fanfare. And rightly so; the project’s been a long time coming, and is expected to fulfill its mission statement to host a ‘permanent, unique exchange between East and West.’
That the West’s largest, most illustrious museum would set up a satellite in the wealthiest, most Westernised of Eastern locales makes sense. Rather convenient, moneyed, prestigious sense.
Of course, it is a Good Thing that more jobs have been created in the cultural sector, a Good Thing that more of the Louvre’s vast collection will now spend more time on display in a shiny, cutting-edge enclave than in any form of storage. A Great Thing if mindsets on either end of the dichotomy are expanded by this exalted swapping of patrimonial spit so to speak.
Though, personally, I can’t help but feel that this grande dame of museum openings falls a bit short of the statement it could have made.
I can’t help but look to examples proffered by other dominant institutions: the Tate St. Ives, designed in the spirit of spilling over London’s grip on approximately 90% of English cultural capital to other cities; the Guggenheim Bilbao, which has managed to rejuvenate an entire depressed fishing village with its own allure and a bit of that Frank Gehry magic.
The Louvre itself was on the right track in 2012 with its Louvre-Lens branch, constructed 200 km north of Paris in Pas-de-Calais atop a scarred old mining site.
Art on this towering scale has the power to create new economies and viable environments; renaissances and new ways of being in provincial underdog places.
With its freshly unveiled universal museum, the Louvre, by sheer right of being the Louvre, could have big banged a whole new universe into existence. Could have straight up pulled a Louis XIV and built a veritable Versailles in an Eastern city known less for its ritzy peaks of luxury than its swampy real-life struggles.
Instead a choice was made to settle in amongst the pre-existing stardust of a comfortably glittering mise en scène, on a mirage-like, specially-built floating island no less.
This choice gets caught in a particularly high-profile glare, considering that the Louvre’s identity is very much wrapped up with that of the French Republic — connotations cemented by President Emmanuel Macron’s pilgrimage to Abu Dhabi for the museum’s inauguration.
Under its banner of meaningful, century-spanning human connection, I truly do hope the Louvre Abu Dhabi blossoms into an equitable place of expression between two hemispheres that have often been at ignorant odds for too long. Though at a first, distant glance, my eyes alight upon a vision of the Louvre as a further entrenched, intimidatingly palatial entity, directing gazes to where it states majesty best lies.