Abu Dhabi opens its Louvre museum on Saturday, positioning itself as a city of cultural tourism with a display of hundreds of works that it hopes will draw visitors from around the world.
Surrounded by water from three sides, the museum houses 600 artworks it has acquired, alongside 300 works on loan from 13 leading French institutions, in its 23 permanent galleries. The artists range from Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh to Pablo Picasso and Cy Twombly.
French President Emmanuel Macron will be the guest of honour at the opening, along with other heads of state.
“It is a lot more than just a museum. It is a centre of peace, acceptance, tolerance and education,” Mohamed al-Mubarak, chairman of the department of culture and tourism in Abu Dhabi, told Reuters.
Permanent installations include a sculpture by Auguste Rodin, an enormous bronze tree with mirrored branches called “leaves of light” by Italian artist Giuseppe Penone and three engravings on stone walls bearing historic texts from the region by Jenny Holzer, an American neo-conceptual artist.
And there are priceless pieces. They include a statue of the Sphinx dating back to the 6th century B.C., 13 fragments of a frieze that reveals Surah al Hashr from the Holy Quran and a marble bust of Alexander the Great.
Among the paintings is one by Leonardo DaVinci, done between 1495 and 1499 and called La Belle Ferronniere, or Portrait of an Unknown Woman, which was recently restored and is on loan from the original Musee du Louvre in Paris.
The Abu Dhabi museum was set up under a 2007 inter-governmental agreement between Paris and Abu Dhabi. Originally slated to open in 2012, it was delayed by the global financial crisis and then by low oil prices, which led the United Arab Emirates to rein in spending.
Louvre Abu Dhabi has partnered with museums and cultural institutions in the Arab world, who will lend 28 significant works. Among them are an 8,000-year-old, two-headed figure called the Ain Ghazal statue from Jordan, some 400 silver dirham coins from Oman and a pre-historic stone tool from Saudi Arabia.
Having invested over $1bn in the museum, Abu Dhabi is hoping culture will attract tourists. Two more museums, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Zayed National Museum, are planned around the Louvre Abu Dhabi in the Saadiyat Cultural District that already hosts art fairs, exhibitions and performances.
“Culture is the element that will distinguish us from others,” said Saif Saeed Ghobash, director-general of the emirate’s Department of Culture & Tourism. “We will attract a different kind of traveller.”
The entrance ticket to the museum is Dhs60 ($16.30) with all 5,000 tickets sold out for the opening day.