The Art Supermarket. The opening of the Abu Dhabi louvre

Last November the Abu Dhabi Louvre opened its doors to the public. The agreement for opening in the Saadiyat island a branch of one of the most popular museums in the world go back to March 2007. During that year, the Abu Dhabi leaders and France decided to give life to a “cultural project never seen or attempted before”, as the Museum itself says. Luckily for us, that “never seen before” truly reflects reality by being a direct consequence of the historical moment we live in. Here, art – and those that make it – has lost its aura, also losing its primary purpose. In 2008 when Jean Claire stated that “the art trade tranforms art into entertainment and museums into amusement parks”, she was pointing to the new phenomenon where museums completely lose their role of preserving heritage, evolving into places close to shopping malls and shop windows. The newborn museum is designed by Jean Nouvelle and it is based in the island which already hosts important museums, such as the Guggenheim of Frank Gery. On the same island there are also shopping malls and residential districts, therefore the new cultural hubs will also have a recreational purpose. 

Louvre Abu Dhabi Ottoman mosaic pavement © Louvre Abu Dhabi, Photography Roland Halbe

Terms and conditions were made public, stating that the new Louvre has permission to use their actual name for thirty years and six months. This is enough time to conquer people’s hearts and to stay in the collective memory. This is why it was decided to create a museum capable of representing a bridge in between cultures, between humanity and its history in order to protect the heritage and recount interconnections between different populations and their art. What is not told is that the project has been entirely designed as the launch of a new product in the marketplace. The ingredients for success are pretty easy to determine, it’s necessary to create a need that the public did not know it had; have a recognizable name; build a good structure and make it identifiable as well; display pleasing contents and saying they are for the common good; finally, make everything look related to a healthy way of living and people’s wellness.

Louvre Abu Dhabi Germination by Giuseppe Penone © Louvre Abu Dhabi, Photography Roland Halbe

The result is a product of our present, which does not manage to keep a relationship with the past either in purpose or in fact, and doesn’t even break relationships with it, but it simply forgets it. This mindset is connected with the distortion of global art, which planned to tear down and destroy borders between nations and populations. This happened, in the art field, in order to demonstrate how every population could be a part of the art world and there were no hierarchies between different arts, artists, and world’s populations. The fact that today, almost thirty years after the first attempt to create a global art, it is still common practice to build places that are not even capable of creating an identity, is also deeply alarming. The sense of identity and belonging to a certain place, or to a certain culture, are ideals that have not been swept away from these new “cultural centres” but have left the door open to the creation of money machines, of places where the price is misidentified and portrayed as value and where history and heritage becomes an illustrated book.

Jenny Holzer ‘For Louvre Abu Dhabi’ 2017 © Louvre Abu Dhabi, Photography Marc Domage

In the art world the identity crisis is even stronger than before, we stopped asking ourselves the right questions, instead there is a ruthless pursuit of profit in a world which should be different, where the difference between commercial product and work of art should be clearer. This change of direction seems necessary, as it looks essential to reveal the real reasons at the core of this “innovative cultural opening”. It is correct to talk about opening, but the world “cultural” really cannot be applied to this case. As long as the main purpose is primarily that of making art a purely economic matter, there will not be a breakdown of the hierarchies, and if we prefer to hide the real economic and political goals under the badge of art and in the name of equality, we will not be interested in producing any kind of culture anymore.

Chiara Guidoni