France signs deal to open Louvre in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Abu Dhabi signed a deal with France on Tuesday to build a spinoff of its most famous museum, the Louvre, in the Gulf emirate better known for oil than art.

Emirati citizens look at a model of the Louvre Abu Dhabi during the signing of a cultural exchange agreement in Abu Dhabi March 6, 2007. REUTERS/Osayd Hasan

Abu Dhabi will pay 400 million euros ($525 million) to use the prestigious Louvre name for 30 years as part of a cultural accord that will see paintings from the home of the Mona Lisa exhibited in the museum to be built on a luxury resort island.

“We have decided to create together a museum destined to foster cultural dialogue between East and West by exhibiting works of major importance ... spanning all historic periods,” said French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, who signed the deal in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates capital.

French governments have traditionally seen France’s rich cultural heritage as a tool for furthering political interests.

The plan to export a version of the Louvre has sparked accusations in France that the government was sacrificing cultural standards for profit.

Dubbed the “Louvre in the sands” by French media, the project has triggered opposition from experts in France who fear it will distort the museum’s true function as a center of scholarship and home to Western art treasures.

Donnedieu de Vabres defended the deal, which includes temporary loans of art works, technical support and training, as one that would spread French culture, but reassured critics that the Louvre’s greatest treasures would never leave France.

The United Arab Emirates, an energy-producing federation of seven emirates that includes Dubai, is developing its tourism industry as part of a drive to wean the economy off oil money. Dubai is already a major regional tourist hub.


The new museum will be built as part of Saadiyat Island (Island of Happiness), a $27-$29 billion luxury tourist resort that will have marinas, shops and five art centers including the world’s largest Guggenheim, designed by Frank Gehry.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, will cover 24,000 square meters, including 6,000 square meters of permanent galleries. The complex, under a patterned dome shedding dappled light inside, is due to open around 2012.

The Paris Louvre will staff and manage the museum and lend it works of art, but it will also build up its own major art collection. UAE officials said there would be no restriction on the type of art to be displayed.

“This will be a universal museum. The whole initiative is to create a hub for art in the Middle East,” said Mubarak al-Muhairi, director-general of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority. “The focus will be on classical art but we will also be focusing on the region.”

Donnedieu de Vabres said the whole deal would be worth almost 1 billion euros, excluding the cost of building the Louvre Abu Dhabi and buying its collection. UAE officials said it was too early to say how much the museum would cost to build.

France has already agreed to set up an Abu Dhabi branch of the Sorbonne, Paris’s main university since the 13th century, and the Center Pompidou, one of France’s main modern art museums, is looking at setting up an annex in Shanghai.

Additional reporting by James Mackenzie