ABU DHABI: On the eve of its fifth anniversary in November, the Louvre Abu Dhabi offers lovers of painting a unique exhibition “Impressionism: modernity in motion”. A first in the region.
“A gift”, this is how Manuel Rabaté, director of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, describes the arrival of the 150 works of art, all part of the Impressionist movement.
From Manet to Degas, via Cézanne, Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Caillebotte, Morisot… treasures from the collection of the Parisian Musée d’Orsay, partner of the exhibition alongside France Museums. In total, more than 100 paintings are exhibited under Jean Nouvel’s majestic dome, as well as graphic arts and photographs, film excerpts, costumes and a contemporary installation.
To achieve this result, it took “a strong relationship with the Musée d’Orsay”, says Manuel Rabaté, in an interview with Arab News in French.
“Women in the Garden” by Claude Monet, “Le Balcon” by Edouard Manet, “Les Raboteurs” by Caillebotte, or even “Les jeunes filles au piano” by Renoir are works reproduced in all the history books of painting. Western culture of the 19th century. “The most beautiful Impressionist works that have never traveled,” says Christophe Leribault, president of the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie. “Never before have we loaned so many chefs -d’oeuvre at the same time”, confided to Arab News in French the man who holds the keys to one of the most important Impressionist collections in the world. They are in dialogue until February 5, 2023 with those of the Abu Dhabi Museum, including a recent acquisition: “La Tasse de chocolat” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, which is unveiled for the first time to visitors.
But beyond an exhibition of masterpieces, “it was important here to have a scientific and educational approach,” adds Christophe Leribault. “This is the mission of the Louvre Abu Dhabi”.
Ranging from the mid-1850s through the end of the 19e century, the impressionist movement accompanies and highlights the emergence of a new world and the social, economic and technological upheavals to which it is witness. “It was important for us with the curators to show how artists introduced this great modernity into painting and to offer a renewed look at the Impressionists, also showing some works by artists who preceded them, such as Courbet, and which form a sort of counterpoint,” adds Christophe Leribault.
“The Impressionists drastically changed our approach to nature, to the city. They saw the industrialization and the development of the metropolises, the transformations of the art market”, explains Sylvie Patry, general curator of the Parisian museum.
For Manuel Rabaté, this emergence of modernity finds an echo in the Gulf region, which is also in full transformation. Moreover, “there is a sort of resonance between a local artistic scene in full bloom and the progress of the Impressionists who wanted to change their methodology, to leave the studios, to experiment. It is interesting to understand how the adventure of such an important movement unfolded”.
A conceptual big bang
Inaugurated five years ago by French President Emmanuel Macron, the Louvre Abu Dhabi was born of an inter-governmental agreement signed in 2007 between France and the Emirates. This agreement was also extended for ten years (until 2047), during the visit of the French president in December 2021 to the Emirates.
Imagined as a kind of laboratory for museum material, it is also the first universal museum in the region. “We put an exceptional museum into orbit and we invented a new way of telling the universal museum in the heart of the Arab world, at the crossroads of Asia and the West, we reconnected history. It was very strong and I think there was a kind of conceptual big bang,” says Manuel Rabaté.
But “telling what the universal is in the Arabian Peninsula in the 21ste century was a real challenge”, according to Hervé Barbaret, Managing Director of France Museums. “And the dialogue between the Emiratis and the French has made it possible to build this new approach”. The difficulty came from the fact that the universal model in the 21ste century is not the one that was built in France at the time of the Enlightenment in the 18e century. “With, let’s be honest, a fairly Western-centric dimension.”
To build the Louvre Abu Dhabi project, it was therefore necessary to “turn the table upside down and say that the dialogue between cultures is a dialogue between equals. “, notes Hervé Barbaret.
Review and Prospects
This new way of telling the shared history of humanity through the history of art is reflected in the sharing of works through collaborations with foreign and local establishments like those in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Oman or other emirates. And a need to build a collection that reflects the unique character of the museum. The Louvre Abu Dhabi now has approximately one thousand objects in its own collection.
Although the Franco-Emirati agreement provides for loans from French museums, they will decrease over the years. In eight years, “the Louvre Abu Dhabi must be able to stand on its own two feet,” says Hervé Barbaret.
In five years of existence, the museum has registered 3 million visitors, despite the three years of Covid. For Manuel Rabaté, the first assessment is positive, even if it is damaged by the pandemic.
“We managed to be resilient. We closed the museum for only one hundred days and we managed to maintain our quality standards for the exhibitions and the permanent galleries, and in the programming for the public, ”congratulates the director. “We played our part in tourism and educational strategies, we participated in the “living together” side of the communities. Now we are in the process of winning back our young public, that of the schools. We missed it and it was very frustrating because we have a transmission mission. »
Research on the materiality of works
Covid-19 has put several museum projects on hold, including that of the Louvre Abu Dhabi Academy with an offer of art history training for the general public. Now that the pandemic is fading, “we want to label the fact that we are a place of training and excellence”, says the director. Thus, under the visitor’s feet, a research laboratory and a documentation center have been built. “We conduct research projects on the materiality of works and on inter-connected stories,” adds Manuel Rabaté. “We have signed several agreements with universities precisely to interface with the academic system”. Finally, as part of the transfer of skills, young Emiratis and Emiratis are trained in museum professions such as curator, collection manager or in mediation.
Located on the island of Saadiyat, the future cultural district of the capital of the Emirates, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is the first already completed, of the five mega cultural projects currently under construction. This new cultural landscape represents a new challenge: it will reshuffle the cards and force us to reinvent ourselves. “We will be surrounded by impressive places such as Zayed National Museum, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Museum of Natural History, and even the Abrahamic House. We’re going to have to be original within a developing scene. », adds Manuel Rabaté. Thus, the strategy must be articulated within this cultural ecosystem and around an increase in the offer. “We will need to think about programming and find synergies with other museums. The goal is not to cannibalize each other, but of course to grow together”.
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