French parliament gives green light to Abu Dhabi Louvre


The National Assembly endorsed the deal reached this year with Abu Dhabi to help develop the museum on an island off the coast of the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

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

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

The French Senate endorsed the deal last month despite criticism from socialists and communists who decried it as a cheap commercial undertaking that had little to do with the promotion of the arts.

"This partnership illustrates in an exemplary manner the openness to the world that we want for our cultural policy," junior minister for cooperation and francophony Jean-Marie Bockel told deputies during the debate.

"We are not leasing or selling our national heritage," he said. "This is a challenge that we are undertaking to promote cultural diversity and a rapprochement of civilisations."

The main opposition socialists abstained from the vote but the governing UMP party and its allies supported the project that was reached by the former government of president Jacques Chirac in March.

Critics complain that France’s prized collections should not be put on loan, saying it would deprive the Louvre’s 7.3 million annual visitors in Paris.

"This agreement marks a worrisome turning point in our museums policy," said former culture minister and socialist Catherine Tasca.

One of the leading opponents of the project and a former director of the Picasso Museum in Paris, Jean Clair, warned that approval of the Abu Dhabi Louvre would "sound the death knell of the museum as we know it."

not selling our soul?" Clair wrote in an opinion piece in Le Monde in December that set off a petition signed by 5,500 prominent figures of the French cultural world.

Some 300 works of art will initially be on display at the Abu Dhabi Louvre but that collection is expected to be trimmed down to 250 and 200 over 10 years.

Senior officials have said there are no plans to allow such masterpieces as the Mona Lisa to leave Paris and that Paris curators will be able to remove any work that may be at risk in Abu Dhabi.

Construction of the 24,000-square-metre (260,000-square foot) gallery designed by French architect Jean Nouvel is due to start later this year and cost 83 million euros (109 million dollars).

The government of Abu Dhabi will foot the bill.


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