Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Louvre in Abu Dhabi

A few months ago it was announced that The Louvre, Paris, France, was going to open a branch at Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi. The Guggenheim chain of Art supermarkets will also be opening a branch on Saadiyat. Yesterday Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, had a meeting with Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, French Minister of Culture to talk about the Louvre project.

Picture the scene, a few years hence: the Museum is finished (and it looks like a very interesting building, by the way). The first consignment of paintings and sculptures has arrived at Mina Zayed. Crates are being opened and examined by Customs Officers (CO) in the presence of a Museum Official (MO).

CO: What's this? Looks like a constipated weasel...

MO: Eet ees La Gioconda, ze most purrfect painting everr made!

CO (on phone to imam): Imam? Look, having a problem here, some geezer from the Louvre wants to bring in a painting of a lady...

IMAM: Has she got her kit on?

CO: Yes, but, she's uglee.

IMAM: Hmm. Figurative art. Not allowed mate. Chuck it in the sea.

Splash. Next.

CO: By crikey, that's a big crate, what's in it?

MO: (gulp) Le Venus de Milo. Ees a two-zousand-year-old statue.

CO: Statue? Of a person?

The crate is opened

CO: Hell's teeth, looks at those Charlies! Ermmm, where's her arms?

MO: Eet was discovered in 1820, dug up from under ze ground. Zey could not find zee arms or zee plinth.

CO: (on the phone again) Imam? Me again. Look, this geezer's got a statue of a neckid woman.

IMAM: I'm coming...

CO: But listen, she ain't got no arms!

IMAM: Yeww. Chuck it in the sea.

Splash. Next.

CO: What a small box! What's in it?

MO: Ze Regent Diamond. Eez 140 carrots.

CO: I'll take care of that, shukran.

MO: !

CO: Next!

MO: Ah! Ze Frieze of Archers, from Persia, 522 AD

CO: Figurative! Sea! Next! (pause) Ah, this is a huge box, what's in it?

MO: A wardrobe

CO: Oh, right, that should be ok! (crate is opened, CO observes human figures portrayed on doors). Bugger.


MO: Right, you cannot object to ziss. Eet ees a metal basin from 1320, made by an Arab called Mohammed ibn Al-Zain! Surely ziss iss fine?

CO: Lemme see...looks like a procession of Emirs decorating the sides there.


And so on. The Louvre is packed solid with figurative art, it's what they do. How does Abu Dhabi plan to square the circle? Islam prohibits figurative art because it might encourage idolatry (yeah, right, I'm gonna worship a wardrobe). It is also robustly opposed to the idea of depicting people in their natural state. If this move by the Abu Dhabi Gubment is meant to presage some kind of shift in policy then that is seriously good news. Otherwise the Louvre in Abu Dhabi is a non-starter.

Curators at the Louvre are none too pleased about this either.

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