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Birth of a Museum


When the Louvre Abu Dhabi finally opens in 2015, as is now projected, the museum’s 180-metre wide “floating” white dome will encapsulate a series of pavilions, plazas, alleyways and canals. Under the translucent canopy, geometrical beams of natural light will illuminate the space beneath like sunrays through palm leaves in what architect Jean Nouvel has described as a “lost city” and an island within the island of Saadiyat itself.

In the meantime, 130 pieces of the museum’s permanent collection are on display at the Manarat Al Saadiyat until July 20th.

The “Birth of a Museum” exhibition is, in fact, the embryonic stage of the Middle Eastern Louvre. Within it’s cultural and time transcending theme (the word “universal” has been kicked around a bit) the specimens range from regional Before-Common-Era artifacts to modern abstract works by Western painters Cy Twombly and Paul Klee.

Western presence is as prominent here as Eastern. A manuscript of the Qu’ran with its calligraphy and decorative motifs is displayed just around the corner from Giovanni Bellini’s late-15th century “Madonna and Child” which hangs opposite of Louis Jean-Francois Lagrenee’s “Venus and Nymphs Bathing,” an oil on canvas which respectfully tests the culture’s views on nudity.

The collection also features a series of early photographs. One particularly haunting is Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey’s “Ayoucha,” revealing a veiled Egyptian woman on a silvered copper plate, dating back to 1843.

This is but a small sample, about a fourth of what the Louvre Abu Dhabi possesses currently. Having weathered the setbacks of a financial crisis and a boycott by artists protesting the working conditions of laborers, “The Birth of a Museum” is a good omen of the Louvre’s future and Abu Dhabi’s place in the world as a cultural epicenter.

Images: 1: Jimmy Dawson, 2, 3: courtesy TDIC