Today we celebrate the 5th anniversary of a unique museum in the world, is the anniversary of a Franco-Emirati cooperation of great ambition, of a humanistic utopia that has materialized. 5 years ago, many of you were there for the grand opening. It was a strong moment, that of the culmination of a project whose gestation had begun much earlier, in 2005. What we are celebrating today are in fact 17 years of collaboration, 17 years of friendship.
It is the story of these 17 years of joint work that explains the maturity and solidity of this exceptional project.. Five years after its inauguration, and despite the difficulties caused by the health emergency, success is in full swing. Before the Covid 19 pandemic, the Louvre Abu Dhabi welcomed more than one million visitors a year, or 3.2 million visitors since opening, well beyond all expectations. The strength of its architecture, the quality of its collections, its exhibitions and more generally its programming have been acclaimed all over the world, since the inauguration of the exhibition in 2017, “From one Louvre to another: opening a museum for everyone” (this title was already a beautiful manifesto!) up to the new Impressionist exhibition presented today in collaboration with the Musée d’Orsay, on an exceptional scale, which brings together 150 masterpieces.
In just five years, the Louvre Abu Dhabi has rocked the world history of museums by accumulating exceptions: the first “universal museum” in the Arab world and the first museum outside France to bear the name of Louvre, this young institution is also the only one in the world to be born from a diplomatic partnership between two countries. 300 works on loan from French museums found their place in the permanent collections of the Louvre Abu Dhabi during its first five years of existence. Another impressive figure: 120,000 children and young people visiting schools since the opening.
Beyond the figures, what is the name of the Louvre Abu Dhabi? It embodies the dialogue of civilizations, decompartimentation, the decentralization of gazes. This museum made it possible to update the universal vocation of the Louvre, but from another point of view. It was never conceived as a copy of the Louvre but as a specific and unique project. I insist on this word: this place is unique. It exists only here in Abu Dhabi and will never look like any other project anywhere else. By undertaking this challenge together, we have created a laboratory for a new way of working. At the time, the idea sprouted after the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Since then the planet has continued to be shaken by crises, wars, attacks, retreats and extremist excesses have continued to gain ground, but we continue to to affirm together common values, a shared humanist ideal. Here we have decided to believe together in the power of education and culture to give future generations the keys to build a better world. Yes, it is this ideal that has guided everyone involved in the project right from the start.
As you know, in most universal encyclopedic museums, the creations of different civilizations are presented in separate departments. In France, the creation of the Louvre Lens in the north of the country changed the traditional division of the Louvre into departments and gave birth to a more global vision of art history. At the Louvre Abu Dhabi it is also this global vision of art history that has prevailed and that has gone even further, less pro-European, guided by the same faith in universalism, but showing a history of civilization of which the West is not the center. It is a question of showing the correlations between peoples, the crossings between civilizations, hybridizations. All the works gathered here basically remind us of our common humanity. The fact that they are presented in resonance gives substance to what connects us: an oceanic statue of a Uli ancestor from New Ireland can dialogue with a painting by Rembrandt or Piet Mondrian. Together, we have invented a new kind of universal museum here. This reinvention has been a source of inspiration for the Louvre in Paris, for the Louvre Lens and for many other museums around the world.
These hybridizations here take on their full meaning because the United Arab Emirates is a real point of convergence, a crossroads, where Europe, Africa and Asia meet, as in the days of the incense or spice routes. We are here in a territory where 180 nationalities intersect.
We have also developed these crossings between the arts, between the ages, between the generations. It was never about building a museum focused solely on the past. What the DNA of the Louvre does is this constant link between history and living artists, between archeology and contemporary art or fashion, 18th century and today’s shows (theater, dance, music, etc.). I am happy to see that the celebration of 5th anniversary thus allows to invite international artists such as Jenny Holzer, Yan Pei Ming, Michelangelo Pistoletto together with Emirati artists such as the director and poet Noujoum El Ghanem.
I am also delighted with the educational dimension of the Louvre Abu Dhabi with in particular the children’s museum. Very soon, this theme of transmission, of education, of the awakening of the new generations brought us together. It is a fundamental question.
We would not be gathered here today if a number of key personalities had not believed in this project. I would first like to greet the extremely strong political will of the heads of state who brought this vision: from the Emirates: the late His Highness Sheikh Zayed, the late His Highness Sheikh Khalifa and His Highness Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. On the French side: President Jacques Chirac, then Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande and Emmanuel Macron who inaugurated it.
I would also like to greet the crucial role of His Highness Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoun and later His Excellency Mohammed el Mubarak. And, of course, our dearest Excellency of him Dr. Zaki Nusseibeh.
I also want pay homage to my predecessors without whom this project could not have seen the light or ended: first of all Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, for his pioneering role in 2005. All the Ministers of Culture who then supported and developed the project up to Françoise Nyssen who have inaugurated, then Franck Riester and Roselyne Bachelot who worked to extend our intergovernmental agreement to project the Louvre Abu Dhabi even more strongly into the future.
In the last fifteen years there have been several upheavals, several thunderstorms, but each time the course has been maintained the project has emerged strengthened, reaffirmed. Sometimes it is the tests that seal the most beautiful and longest love stories!
A word also for the architects: Jean Nouvel, Hala Wardé and all the teams that have worked alongside them. As Jean Nouvel said, the Louvre Abu Dhabi was designed “both as a city and as a palace”. In this building in perfect osmosis with the sea, the rooms of the museum are inspired by the medinas, these typical neighborhoods of Arab cities and this magnificent dome allows the sun to dance. Dear Jean Nouvel, we cannot thank you enough for this masterpiece, described by President Macron as a “temple of beauty”.
I would also like to greet the work and mobilization of Agence France Muséums: his board of directors, his review committee, his successive directors, today Hervé Barbaret, and his entire team, who work daily with Manuel Rabate, Soraya Noujaim and the entire team of the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
Finally, I want to say a special word to the 3 presidents of the Louvre who instilled passion, high standards and audacity in this project: Henri Loyrette, Jean Luc Martinez and now Laurence des Cars. I would like to extend my thanks to the management and teams of all French cultural institutions that are partners of the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
Because if the Louvre Abu Dhabi is called Louvre, we must not forget that behind this name there is a whole network of cultural institutions that are mobilized: Orsay, Guimet, the Center Pompidou, Versailles, the RMN-Grand Palais, the Quai Branly, the BNF, Fontainebleau, Chambord, Cluny, the archaeological museum of St Germain en Laye, Rodin, Sèvres, the MAD, the School du Louvre, the National Heritage Institute, the army museum or even the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon.
This is what makes the Louvre Abu Dhabi project so unique: this extraordinary alliance between so many institutions that together form the Louvre Abu Dhabi family. A family that has been bonding for 15 years and that gives this project all the depth of an exceptional human adventure.
We can be proud and happy with the progress made and now build on these 5 great years to project ourselves, together, into the future, “for at least the next three decades, and much more,” President Macron predicted at the inauguration. We deeply believe in it. This is why we have jointly decided to extend our intergovernmental agreement for another ten years, until 2047. Our unique partnership is anchored for the long term and this gives wings! There are still 25 years ahead of us, half a century! Half a century of projects and dreams to realize! This is what we owe to our young people.
The emerging future portends ever closer ties between Agence France Muséums, the French institutions that constitute it and the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
The French partners will continue, through their loans and scientific support, to support the Louvre Abu Dhabi action in the strongest and most meaningful way possible.
Issues relating to training, recruitment and career development will also be at the center of our joint discussions. We want to strengthen our alliance in the field of training for museum professions, from welcoming the public to the conservation and restoration of works, from programming to management of the exercises.
Together, we will not relax our efforts to continue making Louvre Abu Dhabi what it has already managed to become in five years: a major player on the world stage of museums and culture. We welcome the arrival at his side of other institutions of international scope: I am thinking in particular of the Abrahamic family home that will strengthen the dialogue between religions and cultures, the Sheikh Zayed National Museum, the Museum of Histoire Naturelle, the Guggenheim or the Team Laboratory.
Beyond the Louvre Abu Dhabi, we will continue to develop this strategic partnership that we have been able to build between France and the United Arab Emiratesboth in the field of music, creative industries, but also carrying out a common struggle for the protection of heritage in conflict zones through the international alliance ALIPH.
I have full confidence in the future of our relationships and in our ability to cooperate with courage and imagination, to build bridges between our countries, but also with other countries and other areas of the world, to contribute to building, on a global scale, a culture of peace, a culture of dialogue and of ‘opening .