ABU DHABI – The Louvre Abu Dhabi is a white cube in the sun, straddling the sea and the desert. Floating above is a dome 180 meters (590 ft.) wide that allows traces of sunlight to filter down through the shadows around the museum, like a grove of palm trees in a Saharan oasis.
This is France’s and Abu Dhabi’s effort at sculpting the cultural future of the Middle East.
On Tuesday, four days after opening to the public, the president of Abu Dhabi’s Tourism and Culture Authority, Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, formally presented the Louvre Abu Dhabi to hundreds of journalists.
In a bid to showcase the influences of different cultures, this new Louvre will present a collection of 600 works, half of them loaned by 13 major museums in France.
The art pieces include a statue of the Egyptian King Ramses II (1279-1213 BC), the Buddha Head (534-550 AD), pages of the Blue Quran (880), a self-portrait by Vincent Van Gogh (1887) and works from last year by Ai Weiwei.
Al Mubarak sees the Louvre Abu Dhabi as a global meeting place that will make the world better.
Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and built on Saadiyat island, the lines of the structure were inspired by geometric shapes and by the narrow streets of the traditional Middle Eastern bazaar.
Nouvel, who calls himself a contextual architect, said his objective was always to keep in mind the local culture and tradition.
The Abu Dhabi Louvre, the first museum of its kind in the region, will offer visitors a new perspective on the history of art in a globalized world, Nouvel said.
Walking through the spacious galleries, visitors can take a chronological journey from prehistory to the present in 12 chapters that include the birth of the first peoples, universal religions, the art of the royal courts and the modern world.
The president of the Louvre in Paris, Jean-Luc Martinez, stressed that while France has provided knowledge and support in the building of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the new museum is in fact an Emirati venture created by the visionary leaders of Abu Dhabi.
The new Louvre was built at a cost of more than $660 million by Spanish construction company Sanjose in partnership with Arabtec and Oger Abu Dhabi LLC.