In case you were wondering, we found out where that Da Vinci went…
A architectural wonder, the Louvre Abu Dhabi seems to float over the ocean. It’s like a giant oval ship. Or, a set piece from a Star Wars movie. Or a really big, upside metal rice bowl. Multiple independent structures serve as the museum galleries and visitors meander through courtyards to get from one space to the next. But, this is no quotidien courtyard. A giant dome spreads across the entire museum compound, interconnecting spirals of metal twist in and out. The sun that shines through the knotted ceiling creates what architect Jean Nouvel calls “raindrops of light.”
It’s positively swoonworthy.
But, despite the modern space-meets-Arabia style, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is as old school as it comes. The collections and buildings serve art’s most timeless purpose — to advance power. Since the World Wars artists have largely succeeded in moving their creations away from the grubby hands of the political. Art for art’s sake and all that jazz. In modern times, art as a tool of the state has largely fallen by the wayside. Auctions are the playground of millionaires — powerful to be sure — but heads of state and politicians typically watch on the sidelines with the rest of us.
The United Arab Emirates knows how to play this old game. With tanking oil prices, a young population, and a monarchy to secure, the U.A.E. is attempting reinvention. The museum will provide a boost to tourism, an industry the government hopes might help ease the country’s oil dependency. And while once upon a time Princes might have squirreled away the record breaking $450 million Salvator Mundi, it will be on display to the public at the museum.
During the Arab Spring, protests spread to the small nation. The ruling elites dealt with the demonstrations quickly, managing to avoid revolution. At least for now. The Middle East will face major economic, geopolitical and demographic headwinds in the coming decades. Suppressing rebellion works until it doesn’t. Many countries in the region are considering serious reform. Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E.’s political big brother, is also attempting to enact serious social and economic changes.
It’s hard to see how a fancy art institution makes any difference. But, I would urge readers to take a look at the museum itself. Flicking through images of “raindrops of light,” cerulean blue waters, and Jacques Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps imparts a sense of fantasy. This is a temple to the arts. An aesthetic joining of East and West. A celebration of human creativity.
And for a moment, realpolitik goes out the window.