11 years ago I wrote about the new Louvre in Abu Dhabi (see below). Yesterday I finally went to have a look. It is quite simply the greatest modern building I’ve ever seen and one of the world’s top museums and art galleries. It is simply spectacular. I mean, when was the last time you walked into a building and your jaw just hit the floor in awe? You can’t even speak for 60-seconds – you just look with your mouth open. The gallery is worth seeing for the building alone, but inside it’s just as good. So, in fact, you can create one of the world’s finest museums from scratch.
Abu Dhabi recently paid US$520 million for the rights to use the word ‘Louvre’ for 30 years. The country is spending a further US$747 for art loans and art advice. The franchising of art galleries and museums is a new trend. Abu Dhabi sits on 10% of the world’s known oil reserves and has plans to turn itself into the cultural capital of the Middle East. The new museum will be placed inside a US$27 billion centre that is perhaps the most ambitious arts project ever conceived, involving some of the highest profile architects alive today. The project is not without controversy though. In one corner sit the critics who argue that the ‘French’ collection is being compromised and diluted. On the other side are critics arguing that the new complex should feature Middle Eastern art and not ‘imported’ artefacts. The project stated with a meeting in 2004 that identified high-end tourism as a wave of the future. This, in turn, appeared to be driven by art and education, so a plan was born to attract a world-class cluster of cultural icons ranging from the Louvre to Yale University and the Sorbonne. One obvious parallel here is the Guggenheim in Las Vegas. There is also an art gallery in Skipol airport in Amsterdam. But is this really anything new? The works of Michelangelo and Donatello partly exist because of money provided by the Medicis, so culture has always been ‘bought’. The difference, perhaps, is context, but then again, everything has to start somewhere.
Ref: Newsweek (US), 6 August 2007, ‘Buying Culture’, Z. Krieger. www.newsweek.com