Have you been to the Louvre Abu Dhabi yet?
Art, history, culture and the future. City Times lists all the reasons why you need to visit the Louvre Abu Dhabi and tell you why The Last Da Vinci is a must see when it arrives to its new home.
When I was a child, growing up in Dubai, living in the Rashid Hospital complex where my parents worked in what is now considered 'old Dubai', there were just a handful of galleries in the city. And the ones that did exist were purely commercial galleries with art to make your house look "pretty".
During my formative education abroad, in a little country called New Zealand, I found myself engaged in the worlds of museums, galleries and art fairs while I roamed the Art History department at my university soaking up as much as I could from lectures and tutorials about the great history, institutions and artists that reinterpreted the world, stories and ideas through painting, sculptures and architecture. Long before the internet became the realm where one could explore ideas, people flocked to museums and galleries to see what great artists and thinkers were creating, what history had left behind in the ruins of time and best of all, to discuss these creations and ideas with each other. Part of me envied the west for having established institutions such as these for the public, where everyone was welcome to experience culture at such an epic scale.
I wondered while I roamed the Auckland Art Gallery looking at the photo realistic portraits of Maori chiefs and tribesmen by C. F. Goldie or when I studied up close the paintings of Frida Khalo when a retrospective of her work, Viva La Vida, came to the Wellington Museum, how my life and my cultural education would have changed or been moulded for the better if I was exposed to works of this calibre from a young age.
I was in my 20s then and already felt robbed for not having had the opportunity to see the works of great artists of the world including those from my own country. At the time, the UAE was experiencing a mammoth growth and gaining international exposure for breaking many world records in a number of fields. I was happy and proud to see the UAE spearhead many great projects that made it an exemplary Arab country, but I was waiting for the arts to catch up.
On my visits back, it was encouraging to see more galleries and art institutions and of course Art Dubai start to shape the cultural landscape, but it still didn't feel enough. Then the announcement of the Louvre Abu Dhabi was announced in 2007. It took 10 years to complete. And it's definitely worth the wait. Other than my rather sappy love letter to the arts, here are six other reasons why you should visit the Louvre Abu Dhabi with friends, family or completely alone.
Other than seeing the current exhibitions on show, one of the most exciting things is seeing what future works will be on show at the museum too. The Louvre Abu Dhabi announced late last year that Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece Salvator Mundi will go on display alongside another da Vinci masterpiece, La Belle Ferronnière. Salvator Mundi is known as "the last da Vinci" and is hailed as one of the greatest artistic rediscoveries of the last 100 years. Dating from around c. 1500, Salvator Mundi is an oil on panel painting. The fact this work, the only da Vinci that is privately owned will be available for public viewing at the Louvre is a pretty huge deal. It depicts a figure of Christ as Saviour of the World, facing the viewer, and dressed in flowing robes of lapis and crimson. The figure holds a crystal orb in his left hand that in its realism is mesmerizing to stare at.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi structure itself is a site to behold. Ten years in the making, Pritzker Prize-winning French architect Jean Nouvel, originally came to Saadiyat Island wanting to use the elements available to create the structure. The Louvre Abu Dhabi combines modern design and utilises light, sand and water as part of the space and overall experience. The latticed roof referred to as the 'Rain of Light,' and influenced by how light shines through the palm trees creates a mesmerising effect through the play of light across the epic open-air lobby. The dome is 180 meters in diameter, is made up of 7,850 unique stars, eight layers of cladding, with the largest stars at 13 meters in diameter. There are 55 individual buildings, 26 of those dedicated to permanent galleries. There are 17 glass ceilings which allow natural light to provide the best lighting conditions for you to view the works in the best way possible as well. The space and structure are tailored for you to immerse yourself in the works in the best way possible.
Time and time again, people are mystified by art, artists and the sometimes sterile overly intellectual atmosphere some galleries have. Staring at something that doesn't make complete sense can make anyone feel less than smart. Then having someone explain to you why this is art, why this piece of work is of significance is daunting. Museums and institutions such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi exist to demystify the art world to the public. They are sources of education and understanding. So, if you're someone who was always interested in art but always felt that you might not "get it", believe me when I tell you that the Louvre is a place you need to go to demystify your notion of what art is.
In traditional museums, you'll find that each room or space is dedicated to a specific era, movement or theme. Often these are ordered based on geographical locations or civilisations the works belong to. This way visitors get a more thorough understanding of a specific area or movement. Though, to be honest how many of us remember a whole exhibition or display when we leave a museum? Do we leave with a detailed chronological understanding of a certain period? No, we leave with an experience that stays with us and certain pieces that caught our attention. And this is something the Louvre Abu Dhabi has decided to focus on through their unique curation of the works. Works from across the globe are combined chronologically and organised in one exhibition, so visitors can engage with the visual journey of human kind in a very novel way.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi isn't a one-off experience. The collections include ancient archeological finds, paintings by modern masters and contemporary installations and more, so you can, and should go there several times with different people or alone to experience the works. Going with family is important especially if you have children. Experiencing art and history with children is the best way to set them in the right course and trigger the part of their mind that will keep them curious about the past and history. Experiencing the Louvre alone is also definitely unforgettable. Wearing the provided headphones, which provide audio commentary and information on the works, you can truly immerse yourself in the exhibitions without distraction. You can also make a day of it with your friends at the Louvre and Saadiyat Island where there are some pretty trendy restaurants on the beach for you to eat at. And you might need a friend to take some shots of you for your insta moment at the Louvre!
Never underestimate the power of art. The Louvre Abu Dhabi is not only a cultural hot spot, it's the physical manifestation of how art can navigate and strengthen international relations. Representatives from the Louvre and other notable French museums worked together with the UAE Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi to create the museum. That alone is something to be proud of and witness in person. Walking through the museum you won't only be looking at the works of art created by hundreds of artists over hundreds of years, but also seeing how the vision of the UAE and how working together can create something as timeless as the Louvre Abu Dhabi.