DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, (AP) -Oil-rich Abu Dhabi hopes to further boost its standing in the arts world by opening a satellite branch of Paris’ famed Louvre museum if talks with French authorities succeed, an official here says.
But the proposal is proving controversial in France, where some are decrying what they call a trend of museums for sale.
The new museum could be built by star architect Jean Nouvel, said the French newspaper Le Monde, joining a Guggenheim franchise to be built by Frank Gehry.
Abu Dhabi officials want the Louvre to be one of five prestigious art museum branches anchoring a $27 billion cultural district they are building on uninhabited Saadiyat Island, just off the city’s Gulf-side corniche.
So far, only the Guggenheim has committed to the project. But representatives of Abu Dhabi’s royal family are in talks with several other famous museums, said Bassem Terkawi, spokesman for Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development and Investment Company. He said his government-owned firm was leading the talks between French and Emirates officials.
The museum district venture is a hugely ambitious, even for this wealthy Gulf state. The construction price for the franchise of the New York-based Guggenheim museum has already doubled to $400 million since being announced in July. And the Emirates still needs to embark on the expensive task of buying art for its collection.
“Our direction is to position Abu Dhabi as the cultural capital of the region,” Terkawi said. “We’re trying to bring world-class cultural facilities that are not available in this part of the world.”
“As for the Louvre, yes we are in discussions with them,” he said.
Louvre director Henri Loyrette told Le Monde newspaper’s Monday edition that loans from all civilizations and eras would be represented in the Abu Dhabi project. Other French museums would be asked to volunteer works for periods ranging from two months to two years, he said.
A French delegation visited Abu Dhabi in November to discuss the possibility of an Arab version of the Musee du Louvre, but Terkawi said talks remained in a “very early stage.”
In Paris, protesters warned that French museums could be selling their souls by lending too many works to museums abroad and questioned whether the government is turning France’s rich artistic heritage into a commercial brand.
“Museums are not for sale,” stated an online petition signed by several prominent members of the French art scene.
Didier Rykner, who started a Web site that has collected 1,400 signatures against such projects. He fears the government is hijacking art to promote France’s trade and diplomatic interests.
“I’m not sure the role of French museums is to develop tourism in Abu Dhabi,” he said in a telephone interview.
Le Monde reported that France’s museums could gain about $653 million for their expected role in Abu Dhabi.
The Gulf museum would bear the venerable Louvre name for a time, until it can build its own collection, said Loyrette, the museum’s director.
Other institutions have already succumbed to Abu Dhabi’s lucrative overtures. Paris’ Sorbonne University opened a campus in the Emirates capital city this year, and France’s INSEAD Business School has also announced plans for an education center in Abu Dhabi.