“Get thee to a gallery”- my number one travel rule which I generously interpret to mean that when ever I head out of the house, I must put myself in front of art, whether museum, gallery space, public art project, or graffiti. On a weekend trip visiting the United Arab Emirates, I made sure that Jean Nouvel’s out-of-this-world architecture for the Louvre Abu Dhabi was top priority.
Seeking out tried-and-tested museums or new street art serendipities is key (for me) to understanding a place. And over the year, I have eagerly watched the development of UAE’s Saadiyat Island , a man-made museum island that would bring together blockbuster museums with star architects. After opening in November 2017 to much fanfare, the Louvre Abu Dhabi splashed into UAE’s cultural scene with its space-like architecture, chef-driven cuisine, and amazing art collection that spans the centuries.A Museum of the 21st century, I’m about to share four good reasons why you should visit too.
The Architecture is out of this world
You’ve seen the photos. The Louvre Abu Dhabi is a work of art of its own – a flying saucer hovering over sparkling water with the futuristic Abu Dhabi cityscape in the background. This otherworldly architecture is by none other than Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Jean Nouvel , who created a monumental masterpiece that emphatically says “the future has landed”.
Sitting atop a series of low rectangular buildings, a gorgeous dome of latticed metal composed of 7,850 geometric stars of various sizes allows sunlight to cascade through onto the whitewashed galleries and courtyards below, resulting in a visually stunning “rain of light” when you walk through its galleries.
The design reminiscent of an Arabian medina with its low walls and labyrinth of 53 detached buildings (of which 23 are dedicated galleries). The striking white-on-white palette is a material collage of marble, concrete and metal that allows the artwork, the building’s phenomenal lines and spectacular gulf backdrop to take center stage.
Nouvel designed the space blur the lines between in door and out, as seen with the rain of light, the luminous corridors, the reflecting pools, but my favourite is the Art Lounge, the open-air café atop the restaurant whose plush relaxation area rubs shoulders with the brim of Nouvel’s show-stopping dome.
The Permanent Art Collection
In 2009 (about eight year before open), the Louvre Abu Dhabi began amassing its permanent collection which today counts more than 600 pieces, from ancient amphorae and buddha to Renaissance painting, modern sculpture and contemporary art. And not simply western. There is a great base of Middle Eastern and Eastern art and overall, the collection is a fascinating array of paintings, sculptures and artifacts from different civilizations showing the interconnectivity of the world and art across time.
Like all museums, the Louvre Abu Dhabi shuffles up its permanent collection and features its new loans/acquisitions, as well as having a dynamic temporary exhibition program. In 2021, the museum launched Art Here inviting UAE-based artists to submit proposals around the theme of ‘Memory, Time and Territory’, and our distinguished panel of international art experts. Seven artists will be selected for exhibition with one prize winner, as part of a new annual prize exhibit.
When I visited in 2018, I walked through the inaugural show. Partnering with 13 prominent French museums, the Abu Dhabi Louvre featured a side-by-side pairing of 300 important works including a Pollock from the Pompidou, a Monet from the d’Orsay and a statue of Ramses II from the Louvre. Leonardo da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronnière and Ai Weiwei’s Fountain of Lightare two other stare-worthy pieces in a chronological walk through art history.
For the kids, there is an interactive children’s museum across three floors, and great online hybrid “exhibitions slash learning”.
The (restaurant) scene
Everybody loves a great museum restaurant and great view, and the Abu Dhabi Louvre’s Museum Cafe is just perfect. With floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Arabian Gulf, chef-driven cuisine and plates as pretty as the art on the walls, Louvre Abu Dhabi’s bistro-style restaurant and café are a surprising standout. Or, head to the Art Lounge, the open-air café atop the restaurant whose plush relaxation area rubs shoulders with the brim of Nouvel’s show-stopping dome.
French hotelier family Barrière Group oversees the cafe and art lounge as well as the fine dining restaurant Fouquet’s and the speakeasy Marta. The menu is French tradition with an international flair, the creation of Michelin star-winning chef, Pierre Gagnaire
A version of this article originally appeared in Forbes Travel, May 2018.