May 20 2013

Louvre Abu Dhabi Presents “Birth of a Museum”

by Sylvia Tsai

Jean Nouvel and HE Sheikh Sultan under the Louvre Abu Dhabi architectural model. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Toursim & Culture Authority.

On April 21, notable members of the international art community gathered in Manarat al Saadiyat, off the coast of Abu Dhabi, where the Louvre Abu Dhabi (LAD) opened its second exhibition “Birth of a Museum.”

Sheikh Hazza Bin Zayed al-Nahyan, vice chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, officially inaugurated the show and was accompanied that evening by VIPs including Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al-Nahyan (minister of culture, youth and community development), Aurélie Filippetti (French minister of culture and communication), Jean-Luc Martinez and Henri Loyrette (current and former Louvre directors, respectively) and LAD’s architect Jean Nouvel, among others.

The exhibition brought together 130 pieces of the museum’s growing collection and made sometimes-convincing connections between these artworks across time and space, part of the mission of this so-called “universal museum.” The first gallery successfully juxtaposed contemporary art and works of antiquity—the statuette of the Bactrian princess standing alongside a two-headed Cypriot idol from the Bronze Age, placed next to Yves Klein’s Anthropometry (1960). These works depict the diverse ways in which humans have represented themselves in figurative form. “I wanted to start the exhibition with a simple and strong statement,” explains Laurence des Cars, curatorial director of Agence France-Muséums, an organization established in 2007 for the purpose of mediating this joint venture between the Louvre and the LAD

(Left) Roman Togatus, or the Orator, Italy, 2nd century CE, marble. (Right) Standing Bodhisattva, Gandhara region, present day Pakistan, 2nd–3rd century CE, schist. 

Other links were more tenuous, based on commonalities as arbitrary as the flowing drapery, as seen in the Bodhisattva (2nd–3rd century CE) from the Gandhara region and a Roman orator (2nd century CE). “These works need no mediation for us to see this connection between the different cultures and regions,” says LAD’s senior project manager, Hissa al Dhaheri. “These works are examples of how similar forms of expressions were being appropriated from one region to another; again, representing this universality of art as a means of expression,” she reiterated.

While the visual connections were vague at best, as a whole, this exhibition provided an impressive sample of LAD’s permanent collection, which hinted by des Cars, will include some commissioned works for its official opening in 2015.

Following the opening of the exhibition, it was announced on May 5 that the museum had poured the concrete for the first of the four piers, which will support the 180-meter dome roof of LAD.   

Sylvia Tsai is assistant editor of ArtAsiaPacific.