Abu Dhabi moves step closer to ‘desert Louvre’


Under the 30-year agreement, Abu Dhabi will pay 400 million euros (525 million dollars) for the Louvre brand name and for hundreds of artworks loaned from the Paris museum for periods of between six months and two years.

Emirati Tourism Minister Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoun al-Nahayan hailed the deal as "an historic step" which will boost ambitious plans for a vast cultural and tourism complex being developed on an island off Abu Dhabi.

"The Louvre is the cornerstone for our Saadiyat cultural project. Without the Louvre we would not have the courage to plan such a huge project," Sheikh Sultan said.

The accord was signed by Bruno Maquart of France-Museums and Sheikh Sultan, in his role as head of the Tourism Development and Investment Authority running the project.

French Culture Minister Christine Albanel also attended the ceremony in the Emirati capital.

France-Museums — comprising representatives from the Pompidou Centre, the Musee D’Orsay and France’s National Library — was set up to oversee the development of the project and help counter accusations in France that the Louvre was "selling its soul" by loaning out its prized collections overseas.

Nearly 5,000 people, including dozens of museum directors, curators and art historians, have signed a protest petition.

The French parliament approved the plan last October despite criticism from opposition socialists and communists who decried it as a commercial gimmick that will only deprive the Louvre’s 7.3 million annual visitors in Paris.

The deal is part of a broader one-billion-euro cooperation agreement with the French museums agency that will see artworks travel from Paris to the Gulf when the branch opens in 2012.

France-Museums will also provide help in setting up the collections and training staff.

The museum will be housed in a 24,000-square-metre (260,000-square-foot) building designed by French architect Jean Nouvel.

Encouraged by the Louvre deal, France is now eyeing the possibility of further cooperation with the oil-rich Gulf state.

Albanel, who flew over the still-desertified project site in a helicopter Monday, said she had raised with Emirati officials the possibility of further cooperation in the fields of music and archaeology.

"We would be very happy to see our expertise taken into account in these areas," the French minister said.

The head of Paris’ Cite de la Musique, Lauret Bayle, was part of the French delegation at the signing ceremony.

Officials said a draft plan to develop other museum projects had been submitted to the Emiratis, though the details have not been made public.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is one of five museums to be build on Saadiyat island in the Gulf, a vast complex of luxury hotels, golf courses, marinas and private villas set for completion in 2018.

The complex is part of Abu Dhabi’s plans to secure a larger slice of the Gulf’s booming tourist industry.


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