Henri Loyrette on Bringing the Louvre to the Middle East

Henri Loyrette on Bringing the Louvre to the Middle East
Shortly after construction crews broke ground for the Louvre Abu Dhabi outpost due to open on Saadiyat Island in 2013, ARTINFO sat down with Henri Loyrette, director of the unparalleled Paris institution, to discuss what French expertise can bring to the region and what special considerations apply there.

Why did the Louvre, one of the grandest and most venerable museums in the world, agree to collaborate with a country that has no long-standing history of appreciating the visual arts? What do you think the Louvre can teach the people of the UAE and surrounding regions?

One of the key missions of the Louvre since its creation in 1793 has been to promote and defend art and artistic creation, and to play a key role in education. The Louvre Abu Dhabi will associate the long tradition of culture and education of the Louvre with the living spirit of Abu Dhabi. It will be a new and distinct institution dedicated to culture, education, and aesthetic pleasure. More than teaching them, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will share with the people of the UAE and the surrounding region. It will draw more people to art and to artistic values.

How have you responded to your compatriots who are outraged by the notion of a “second” Louvre?

The Louvre Abu Dhabi will not be a copy of the Louvre but a separate museum that will bear the name of the Louvre as a symbol. Behind the name all French museums will gather to create the new institution in close connection with Abu Dhabi. To bear the name “Louvre” will put the institution among the greatest museums in the world. It will also require it to follow the paths and values of the Louvre.

Were you involved in the selection of Jean Nouvel and the creation of an architectural program for the Desert Louvre? What do you think his design achieves?

Jean Nouvel was chosen by Abu Dhabi before the signing of the agreement with the French government. His architectural project is gorgeous and designed in close relation to Islamic architecture; he associates the dome with the Islamic cupola and uses the Arabic city pattern. It’s one of the most beautiful museum projects of the 21st century.

Abu Dhabi is more progressive than many of its neighbors. Nevertheless, considering the cultural mores of the region, are you concerned that certain exhibitions might alienate devout Muslims?

The very first acquisitions made by the Louvre Abu Dhabi show that the government of Abu Dhabi is keeping an open mind. Indeed, we’ve bought a Christ from 16th-century Germany as well as a Buddha head and a Boddhisatva. This is the best way for the Louvre Abu Dhabi to keep a spirit of freedom and openness.

Finally, are you concerned about reports by Human Rights Watch that the construction workers on Saadiyat Island are “suffering abuse and severe exploitation”? How involved should the Louvre and other institutions building there be in preventing such behavior? Do you see encouraging workers’ rights part of your role as a Western democratic institution?

Of course we are concerned, as is the Abu Dhabi government. TDIC, the company in charge of the Louvre Abu Dhabi building, made a formal and strong statement regarding human rights. Moreover, Jean Nouvel said recently in Abu Dhabi how careful he would be in the choice of building companies, and the Louvre will support him. To create a new museum under the name of the Louvre is a claim for humanism. The presence of museums in Abu Dhabi, the Louvre being the first, underlines the strong will of the Abu Dhabi government to go further in respect to human rights.