Shanghai Disneyland is going to have to wait for Dubai Disneyland. I say this because the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, which has been designed by Frank Gehry, will open by or soon after 2012. Read on....
Abu Dhabi closes deal with France for a new 'Louvre'
By Alan Riding
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
PARIS: What's the price of a good name? How about a cool €400 million?
That is the amount that Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, agreed Tuesday to pay to attach the name of the Louvre to a new museum which it hopes to open in 2012. And there is more: In exchange for art loans, special exhibitions and management advice, Abu Dhabi will pay France a further €575 million.
Controversy over the so-called Louvre Abu Dhabi has been swirling here for the past three months, with critics charging that France was "selling" its museums, but only now have the full details of the €975 million, or $1.3 billion, package been disclosed.
For Abu Dhabi, closure of the deal marks an important step in its plan to build a €20.7 billion tourist and cultural development on Saadiyat Island, opposite the city.
The project's cultural components include a Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, a maritime museum and a performing arts center as well as the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
For France, the agreement signals a new willingness to exploit its culture for both political and economic ends. In this case, it also represents something of a payback: The United Arab Emirates has ordered 40 Airbus-380 aircraft and has imported €8 billion worth of armaments from France over the past decade.
The agreement was signed Tuesday in Abu Dhabi by the French culture minister, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, and the president of Abu Dhabi's Tourism Authority, Sheik Sultan bin Tahnoon al-Nahyan.
Henri Loyrette, president of the Louvre, was among numerous senior French museum officials in the French delegation.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi, a 24,200 square-meter, or 260,000 square-foot, complex covered by an umbrella-like roof designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel, is planned as a universal museum, including art from all eras and regions, including Islamic art. Over the next decade, Abu Dhabi is also expected to spend about €400 million building its own collection.
Although it will carry the Louvre's name, the new museum's relationship will be with a new International Agency for French Museums, which will include the Musée d'Orsay, the Georges Pompidou Center, the Musée Guimet, the Château de Versailles, the Musée Rodin, the Musée du Quai Branly, as well as the Louvre among its members. This new agency is also expected to look for new international partners in the coming years.
Still, it was inevitable that the focus of attention should be the renting of the Louvre's name. It was this that upset many French traditionalists, including 4,700 signatories of a petition objecting to the accord. But it was also the Louvre brand that Abu Dhabi coveted in order to add prestige to its ambitious Saadiyat Island plan.
Apart from paying €400 million to the French agency for the use of the Louvre's name for 30 years, Abu Dhabi has also agreed to make a direct donation of €25 million to the Louvre itself to refurbish a wing of the Pavillon de Flore.
This gallery, to be ready by 2010, will carry the name of Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, founder and longtime ruler of the United Arab Emirates who died in 2004.
Abu Dhabi will also finance a new art research center in France and pay for the restoration of the Château de Fontainebleau's theater, which will be named after Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed al- Nahyan, the emirate's current president.
France's support for the Louvre Abu Dhabi includes several elements: In exchange for €190 million, it will rotate between 200 and 300 artworks through the museum over a 10-year period; it will be paid €165 million over 20 years for management expertise provided by its new museums agency; and it will provide four temporary exhibitions per year for 15 years in exchange for €195 million.
In a telephone interview from Abu Dhabi, Mubarak al-Muhairi, deputy chairman of the city's Tourist Authority, dismissed rumors that the new museum would refuse loans or exhibitions from France displaying Christian religious art or, say, nudity. "In principle, there are no restrictions," he said, "but both sides will agree on what is shown."
He said that the authority's hope was that the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, which has been designed by Frank Gehry, would open by or soon after 2012, with the other parts of the cultural center to follow.
He also noted that, while Abu Dhabi expected its expenditure on new works to average about €40 million per year, "It is our intention to build the collection gradually so as not to distrub the market." In this, the French museums agency is also expected to play an advisory role.
In a statement, Nahyan said the accord reinforced "Abu Dhabi's vision to become a world-class destination bridging global cultures." In a message read at the ceremony Tuesday, President Jacques Chirac said it "sealed a partnership with the world's most visited and well known museum."