ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Stepping into the Louvre Abu Dhabi, one of the first artworks a visitor sees is a two-headed Neolithic statue from Jordan, one of the oldest known in human history.
That duality — looking back and toward the future, encompassing both East and West — is a theme that extends throughout the new museum, which is opening to the public on Saturday after a decade of delays and questions over labourers’ rights.
Still, artwork at the new Louvre offers a brief history of the world.
“Here at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, we’ve accomplished history,” Mohamed Khalifa al-Mubarak, the chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, said at a ceremony for journalists on Monday. “This museum is a lot more than just a museum.”
The modernist museum, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, sits under a honeycombed dome of eight layers of Arab-style geometric shapes.
It draws the lapping waters of the Persian Gulf into its outer corridors, allowing individual beams of light that pass through the roof to strike the surface and cast dancing reflections across the white walls. At night, light inside pours out like tiny little stars from a salt shaker against the city’s skyline.
“I imagine this metaphor of the sky, cosmic, cosmographic, with a random system like the stars itself,” Nouvel told The Associated Press. “I imagine that with not a lot of lighting, just a little bit to create a kind of rain of light.”
Jean-Luc Martinez, the president-director of the Louvre in Paris, described the museum as a bridge between Asia, Africa and Europe.
“We are not a European museum,” he told the AP. “It’s a place to see the world from Abu Dhabi.”
That begins in the first gallery, where the floor bears an outline of the UAE with the names of different world cities in Arabic, Chinese, English and Hindi. Different cultures face each other in exhibits: for example, a French suit of armour is positioned to look directly across from a Japanese warrior’s outfit.
Whistler’s painting joins a woman’s portrait on wood by Leonardo da Vinci, two works by Pablo Picasso and a hot-pink Andy Warhol image of an electric chair.
For now at least, the museum’s exhibit ends with an installation by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei called ‘A Foundation of Light’, an illuminated work of steel and glass that recalls the museum’s gleam at night.