Le Louvre in the Desert

The grande dame of all museums of the world is getting a baby sister/brother. A sibling in any case.
11/17/2014 03:37pm ET | Updated January 16, 2015
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The grande dame of all museums of the world is getting a baby sister/brother. A sibling in any case. The majestic and scrumptious monument at the center of Paris will soon spawn another museum in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, sometimes called the Emirates and the UAE in short. Among all places, this seems like an odd choice for sure. Not the most touristic location on earth, the effort to draw crowds to a desert town bordering the Persian Gulf surely has its own reason.

The emirate of Abu Dhabi is part of a seven-unity country of about five million inhabitants. Since the oil boom, the capital city of Abu Dhabi, with a little under one million residents, has become a sophisticated metropolis. In 2007 the city was granted the title of the richest city in the world. Petrol-rich since the 1950s, Abu Dhabi is twinned with her sister city Houston, in Texas, another oil-rich city in an oil-rich state.

In an ultra luxurious country, Abu Dhabi is one of the wealthiest places on earth. With gold bling everywhere, immaculate white domed mosques, intricate minarets and sublime romantic deserts - it is the essence of the Arabia of 1,000 nights. Camel racing at dawn, crimson-red sand dunes at sunset. Only 80 miles away from the other pearl of the coast, Dubai, both cities share the rich heritage of the Arabian culture and history. The more contemporary side of both emirates includes a vivid interest in cultural and refined things.

So far, the Arabian jewel of Abu Dhabi has not lacked any of the world superlatives, from the most expansive hotel, to the largest water park, and from the excessive real estate offerings to the incredible beachfront line-up, including Jumeirah Beach, a 20-miles stretch of incredibly fine sand and warm transparent turquoise waters. The city by the sea now wants to buy the best of what the art world has to offer, and Le Louvre is after all, the most extensive art museum of all. An antenna of the famed Guggenheim Museum is also planned in the art expansion program of Abu Dhabi.

In a testament to the sophistication of the expanding gulf town, it was announced in 2007 by the famous French Louvre Museum that an entirely new Louvre museum would be completed by 2015 in Abu Dhabi, as part of a 30-year agreement between the city and the French government. The building will be about 260,000 square foot, with a final cost of around $150 million for its construction only, and bear the name Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Another $525 million was paid by the city of Abu Dhabi, simply to be associated with the Louvre name, and another $747 million will be attributed for art loans, special exhibitions and management advice from the Paris anchor museum. Designed by trendy French architect Jean Nouvel (who build the Arab World Institute in Paris), the new art sanctuary is expected to open in mid 2015, but that date has been pushed back multiple times already.

Offshore from the city of Abu Dhabi, the new museum will anchor the Island of Saadiyat, a low lying island 1,600 foot off the coast. The site is currently under development, with a mix of commercial, residential, and leisure projects being built and expected to be completed by 2020. The Island is slated to become Abu Dhabi's cultural centre.

Former French president Jacques Chirac stated that "By choosing the Louvre, the emirate of Abu Dhabi not only sealed a partnership with the world's most visited and well-known museum, but selected one which, from its very inception, had a vocation to reach out to the world, to the essence of mankind, through the contemplation of works of art."

The majestic museum in the centre of Paris has a heavy history associated with royalty (like all things really French), revolution, and identity crisis. The monumental building was the residence of the French kings, before King Louis XIV decided to move the entire court to Versailles, a city southwest of Paris. Millions of visitors enter its funky inverted pyramid entry each year. The main entrance is through the glass structure designed by IM Pei, but in truth, real Parisians will tell you it's better to use the other entrance, by the underground shopping centre called Carrousel du Louvre. It will be quicker; sometimes there are no lines at all.

With over 35,000 works of art exhibited - Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, to more modern masters such as da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt - it would take several months to just even glance at every piece. The star attraction for most visitors is still Leonardo da Vinci's "La Joconde", whose original Italian name is Mona Lisa; she is located in room six, on the first floor of the Denon Wing. The painting is indeed rather small, just 21 by 30 inch, and her eyes do seem to follow you as you move about her. If you're lucky, you will see her from close enough, but for the vast majority of the opening hours, her room is so crowded that you might just get a glance of a detail from far away. Still her power is undeniable.

The majority of visitors of the Paris landmark are largely foreign (65 percent), with the Europeans leading, followed by American tourists and finally Asian ones. Most people spend three to four hours on their visit, and all have said they would return. Despite the worldwide draw of the name alone, it remains to see which visitors will be attracted to the new location in Abu Dhabi.

The new museum in the desert town will look in the end like a seemingly floating dome structure, with a web-patterned rounded roof allowing the sun to filter through intricate patterns. A true hybrid shape between the most modern architecture and traditional Arab style. Other Paris museums, such as Centre Pompidou, Musée d'Orsay and Versailles will showcase some of their masterpieces there as well, but the Louvre stated that no art will be sold to the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Originally built as a 12th-century fortress, Le Louvre of Paris has more than a million pieces of art in its vaults. So far, the only revealed pieces of work that will be on loan to the Louvre Abu Dhabi are by Leonardo da Vinci, Henri Matisse, Vincent van Gogh, and Claude Monet. No word if La Joconde will ever be traveling to the new museum desert location.