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   Global Art Daily Publication™ 
United Arab Emirates












The Louvre Abu Dhabi, the talk of the town. For what seems (and actually is) years, the capital of the UAE has been anticipating the grand opening of the institution that will enhance its cultural scene and profoundly change its international image. Abu Dhabi indeed has the ambition to become, I quote, "the cultural capital of the Middle East."

And knowing the determinism and enthusiasm found in this region of the world, this ambition might become true to some extent. Like its neighbour cultural city Doha (Qatar), the government of Abu Dhabi has created an entity dedicated to promoting arts and culture in the city. TCA Abu Dhabi is the umbrella entity overseeing the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi projects on Saadiyat Island, the future capital epicentre of this multibillion initiatives.

I, alongside 600 or so students, happen to live on that island-in-construction. We see it from far away every time we cross the Sheikh Khalifa bridge, linking the city of Abu Dhabi to Saadiyat Island. Construction cranes lay the foundations of the spectacular Jean Nouvel designed dome.

I will try to cover two things in this article. My thoughts on the potential of the Louvre Abu Dhabi to be the world's first truly global, art museum. Second, I will presents contextualize its opening within the local art scene of Abu Dhabi.



The Louvre Abu Dhabi presents itself as an universal museum. Its main statement is that it will not adopt any centric view on the world. The narrative they will provide is not nationalistic in any sense. The curators will present the history of the world through a selection of objects from as many cultural backgrounds as possible. An Oba wooden statue from Benin will be standing next to a Greek marble bust, a Buddha statue or a Shiva statue. The portrait of an European emperor on a horse will be interacting to a Mughal miniature painting of a prince on his own horse. The photograph taken by an English orientalist will interact with an Ottoman court oil painting. The only logic that will be used is time. Objects will be arranged in chronological order in different rooms, grouping them under similar (yet culturally different) thematic content, subject matter, medium, or colours. Multicultural understanding will be visually stimulated. Whether multicultural understanding will be fostered is another question, that time can only help elucidate.

The curators and board members of the Louvre Abu Dhabi had a wonderfully difficult task at hand. As exquisite it is to go in around the world at art dealerships and auction houses to source the best objects to represent the world's history, it is a daunting task to do in ten years and under the limitation of the art market's supply. What if a certain object, representative of a certain part of world history the curators wanted to showcase, could not be found on the global art market? Board members and curators might have had to make compromises. The collection of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, as globally-minded as it is, will perhaps not feature some art movements because they could not find representative objects from the particular art practice they wanted to showcase.

In a multi-centric world, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is a museum of its time. But the word 'global' tends to be used and abused. It's the story of Global Art Daily itself. Let's talk about the elephant in the room. What exactly is 'global'?

Its point of view is global. Is global, neutral? Is global, unrooted? Is global, cosmopolitan? Is global, corporate? Is global, multicultural? Is global, dictatorial? Is global, educative? Indeed, as much as the Louvre Abu Dhabi mission and initiative is truly extraordinary, it attacks the iceberg surrounding our society today. Can we live in a peaceful, understanding, multicultural world? If you ask me, I truly hope and believe so. I think what the Louvre Abu Dhabi is doing is courageous and should be appraised of the highest honours. Writing 'global art history' from a non-Westocentric point of view, as a team of French educated art historians (or 'conservateurs') is no easy task. But that's exactly what this list of scholars are working towards every day. It's nevertheless important to remember that the results of their work will not be universalists nor authoritative. The answers they will find will be interpretative and affected by many personal choices.

Abu Dhabi's art scene might feel like it takes a top-down approach. But as we have been waiting for the big museums to open, a number of homegrown initiatives have spurred and reversed the balance to a bottom-top one. I am thinking of the fabulous work of the Sheikha Bint Hamdan Foundation, who keep fostering careers of local artists (see this interview with Ghaleya al Mansoori) and recently is overseeing the Warehouse 421, a hangar-like space presenting an enormous potential for large scale contemporary art installations. I am thinking of Art Hub or the Art Space, some independent non-for-profit art spaces serving spaces for curating shows and permitting various artists in residence programs. I'm thinking of my university's gallery spaces, the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery and its Project Space which may easily be the most academically-forward art space in town. I am thinking also the annual Abu Dhabi Art fair, which I have covered for 2 years now and seems to be the big art event everybody convenes to every year.

These various institutions and initiatives are great additions to the city's art scene. Of course, we are not at NYC's or Berlin's level (yet, if ever) in terms of the number of museums, commercial galleries and independent art spaces. But the Louvre Abu Dhabi opening has been and I believe will be a driving motor for art entrepreneurs from the UAE and beyond.

Sophie Arni, January 2016, Abu Dhabi.
Images are found on the internet. Reproduction not allowed.