Plans are proceeding , despite vehement opposition in France, to build a Louvre in Abu Dhabi. The building will, for want of a better word be, “unusual.” A shallow dome that looks rather like an escapee from some low-budget 60’s science fiction movie. With geometric openings causing patterns of light to bounce around the interior, I can almost see the likes of Matisse and Van Gogh turning in their graves.
No doubt, I am not the only one to see the irony of the whole situation, and as I discussed in “Cultural Oases in Abu Dhabi part one,’ the Guggenheim seems to have come to some arrangement whereby none of the works on display in their museum outpost will ‘offend local sensibilities,’ and I wonder if the Louvre has come to the same arrangement. If so, I have the same question to pose:’Dude, like what are you gonna hang on the wall, man?’
Perhaps France’s most outspoken opponent to the development is Didier Rykner, an art historian and art critic. Rykner began an online petition in protest of the Louvre’s preparations. Other art historians, archaeologists and curators apparently agree and are among the 5,000 signatories that have endorsed his petition.
Mr. Rykner opposes the museum for artistic reasons rather than political one, and in his own words:
“When money (a lot of money) is exchanged against art, any work of art can be rented, without consideration for its fragility. The decision to rent such or such work will not be for aesthetic reasons, but for political reasons as all these operations have been until now. If exhibitions and loans of works of art become onerously expensive, small museums will no longer be able to organize exhibitions because of lack of funds. And even if they could, some of the works of art they will need for aesthetic reasons will no more be available because they will be rented elsewhere, by richer countries or museums.”
“The Louvre in Paris is seen by more than 8 million visitors a year, mainly coming from abroad. They deserve to see the masterpieces of this museum. But the masterpieces will be the first to be rented, because nobody gives a lot of money in exchange of unknown master’s paintings. The Louvre is not a storage place where you can pick up works of art with diplomatic or political reasons. When a work of art is not in a museum I visit, because it is lent to a real exhibition, I regret it but I understand it. It is fair and right. When a work of art is not there because it has been rented for a purpose without any link to art history, I am angry. I recently went to New York but did not visit the Guggenheim. What is the point of visiting a museum whose collections are all over the world, and no more in the city where they were given to by the donor? On the contrary, I went several times to visit the Metropolitan Museum which does not pursue the same policy. I do not care if the Metropolitan shops are all over the world. I am a great Metropolitan Museum fan.”
“Abu Dhabi is just a new and bigger step towards a policy the French government has been leading these recent years. I do not complain of Saudi Prince Walin bin Talal’s 2005 donation of $20 million because I am in favour of patronage. I am grateful for this gift, which is a gift, which is not a fee to borrow other art.”
Mr. Rykner has opposed similar projects both in Atlanta and northern France in the past, and whilst he has been accused of being anti-Middle East, it seems to me he has a point. If you can see any old piece of artwork, any old time, in any old place in the world, what’s the point of making a pilgrimage to the Louvre. Abu Dhabi admittedly has more money than most, and I’m sure it would be difficult to turn down the sort of money on offer (between $800 million and $1 billion depending on who you ask,) but the whole thing is rather short sighted. McLouvre anyone?
You can read several opinions on the argument here: