View of Louvre Abu Dhabi from above
Abu Dhabi

An art insider’s guide to Louvre Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi is an ancient East-meets-West hotspot, a land that has always been a cultural and commercial crossroad and home to a host of co-existing histories. Aptly, Louvre Abu Dhabi tells the story of mankind, from the first settlements through the rise of world religions and trade routes to the princely court, modernism and our contemporary moment. Founded in 2017, the museum has already become an icon, thanks in part to Jean Nouvel’s exquisite architecture. As the sun sifts through the gleaming, mashrabiya-like dome, the mini-agoras below are dappled in what the Pritzker Prize-winning architect calls a “rain of light”. And that’s just the first of many stand-out works

Grand Vestibule of the Louvre Abu Dhabi

The Grand Vestibule: a visual preface

A microcosm of the entire Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Grand Vestibule (pictured above) sets the geographical and intellectual tone for the multiple narratives that unfold in the galleries. Dramatically placed on a map of the UAE coastline, nine prism-shaped display cases highlight different cultures’ creative takes on universal themes such as power, death and maternity. The uncanny clustering of a mediaeval French Virgin and child in ivory, a robust wooden 19th-century maternity figure from Congo’s Yombe culture and an ancient Egyptian bronze of the goddess Isis nursing her son (the god Horus) strikingly makes the entire museum’s point: look not to what divides, but to how much we have in common.
In the know: Before entering the Grand Vestibule, spend a moment relishing the idiosyncrasy of Cy Twombly’s towering, mark-strewn paintings compared to the strict geometry of Nouvel’s dome overhead.
 

Chivalry exhibition showing armour

Chivalry between East and West

Furusiyya is the Eastern, Islamic counterpart of chivalry in the Christian West. While such knightly codes of conduct applied on and off the battlefield, the warrior remains the emblematic figure across both chivalric cultures. Acquired by Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2018, the 15th-16th-century set of combat armour for horse and rider (pictured above) dates from the early days of the Ottoman Empire’s brisk expansion. The Sultan’s army included the famous sipahis – heavily armoured professional fighters mounted on light steeds – who surprised their Christian enemies by standing tall in the saddle, wielding nimble blades against their adversaries seated on heftier warhorses. This complex work conjures the full sensory experience of the battlefield: the small, articulated metal plates of the horse’s armour would have jangled and glimmered in full gallop. 
In the know: The helmet’s bulbous, spiralling shape imitates the folds of a turban. 
 

Interior architecture of Louvre Abu Dhabi

An audio tour to the future: We Are Not Alone

Experimental sound artist Soundwalk Collective has added a futuristic twist to the typical museum audio tour. Featuring talents such as actor William Dafoe, filmmaker Wim Wenders, actors Charlotte Gainsbourg and Zhou Dongyu, and Emirati singer Hussain al-Jassmi, the multilingual sound piece We Are Not Alone projects listeners thousands of years into the future, where humans are part of a multi-planetary civilisation. Wander through obscure recesses of the museum as your imagination takes flight on this mind-bending, thought-provoking audio-meets-architecture journey. 
In the know: Beyond the compellingly trippy storyline narrated by two android characters, the highly imaginative ambient score captures the artists’ interpretation of “the sound of space”. 
 

Für die Luft light feature

For the Air 

An echo of the “rain of light” at the museum’s entrance, artist Susanna Fritscher’s otherworldly Für Die Luft (For the Air) (pictured above) turns the concluding galleries into an imaginary landscape. A labyrinth formed by thousands of floor-to-ceiling silicone threads snakes through the light-drenched room, where a broad skylight reveals details of the dome’s intricate underside. At first glance, it seems as though the artist has given texture to the air: the diaphanous strings blur the boundary between atmosphere and architecture. The interplay of light, movement, even sound (the threads resonate!) beckons visitors into an immaterial forest of hushed contemplation. 
In the know: The best time to meander through Fritscher’s work is around noon, when the overhead sun maximises the ethereal effect.  
 

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Pillars of Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque

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