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From then to now
April 25, 2013
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Birth of a Museum, the first large-scale presentation of the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s permanent collection, showcases 130 artworks reflecting the narrative of the museum. The exhibition is open from Apr. 22 - July 20 at Manarat Al Saadiyat, the art exhibition centre on Saadiyat Island.

Works include ancient artifacts from all over the world — including Egypt, Turkey, Greece and Mali — showcasing the breadth of great civilisations and illustrating links arising from shared human experience transcending geography, nationality and history.

Key historical moments are encapsulated through works such as Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey’s Ayoucha from 1843 Cairo (depicting the oldest known photograph of a veiled woman); a tile of arabesque patterns from the Ottoman Empire (c. 1570) and a silk painting from Japan’s late seventeenth century, together with a delicate section of pages from the Holy Qur’an and Suras, believed to be from Syria’s late thirteenth century.

Paintings by Paul Gauguin (Children Wrestling, 1888) and Rene Magritte (The Subjugated Reader, 1928) are in dialogue with works by Giovanni Bellini and Edouard Manet, as well as contemporary art works by Alexander Calder, Paul Klee, Yves Klein and Cy Twombly. All works and artists have been carefully chosen to present a singular and original reading of the history of art, built around several key artistic and aesthetic questions core to the identity of the new museum, designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect, Jean Nouvel. Louvre Abu Dhabi and its collection are owned by the Government of Abu Dhabi.

Following Louvre Abu Dhabi’s exhibition Talking Art: Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2009 which revealed some of the initial art works acquired by the museum, Birth of a Museum will be the first large-scale presentation of part of the collection of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, giving a taste of its architecture and art works.

It is symbolic not only because it represents the progress and anticipation of the forthcoming museum, but it is the first time the Abu Dhabi Government showcases the fruits of years of considered collecting on this scale and to give such a significant update on the progress of the museum.

Like the museum, it proposes a singular and original rereading of the history of art and is built around several key artistic and aesthetic questions which reveal the core principles of the identity of the Louvre Abu Dhabi: universalism, the comparison between art works from great civilisations, from the most ancient times to the contemporary scene, while underlining the multi-disciplinary nature of the fields of artistic creation. It explores the status of the work of art, the universal questions of the Figure and the Sacred, as well as mutual inspirations, aesthetic borrowings and influences and the grand voyage of forms and ideas, between reality and the imagination.

The selection of the collection is presented in six main themes that are representative of the museum, and allows for approaches that are more trans-chronological than the museum’s chronological narrative. The exhibition’s aim is to evoke the museum’s aesthetics — although it is not a literal illustration of the future museum, it will begin to tell the story of its birth.

* Visitors can understand the evolution of ‘figures,’ including its role in power systems developing at the dawn of civilisations, with objects such as the Cypriot idol plaque or a Bactrian princess or moving to more of an artistic expression in modern times in the dual anthropometry of Yves Klein

* In a section dedicated to ‘ancient worlds,’ an example of relations (or its absence) between the main political and artistic regions, is made emblematic through the choice of a given typology, an example being the vase, highlighted in the artistic or functional variations given to it in ancient Minoan Greece, classical Greece, ancient China and Roman Egypt.

* ‘The sacred’ tackles an important theme through a dialogue between religions, their practices and rites, expressions of faith and manifestations of the sacred and while not being exhaustive, respecting the singularity of each one.

* ‘The Eastern image’ offers a fresh overview of images with original graphic and pictorial tradition, explaining their profound effect on an entire section of Western art in the 19th century. From Mogul and Rajput India to Japanese Zen painting, this selection shows the rich variety, refinement and inventiveness of the construction of the image of the East.

* Twenty quality canvases enable us to understand the singular stakes of pictorial representation for the Western world in a section called ‘The Western Gaze.’ Split into two sections, the first ‘Depicting the World’ shows art works from the 16th to 20th century of some of the greatest names of European painting, from Bellini to Ingres, along with Jordaens and Murillo; the visitor will see unfolding the great effort of a form of representation which, inspired by the humanistic ideal of the Renaissance, seeks to reproduce the world from the angle of a rational and realistic vision.

The second area in this section, ‘The subjective vision,’ includes important art works by Manet, Gauguin and Magritte and shows the emergence of the figure of the modern artist, independent from the official artistic world, and a corollary in manifestoes and movements which, from Impressionism to Surrealism, formed the history of the avant-gardes of the 19th and 20th century.

* ‘Cultures in dialogue’ explores the phenomena of artistic mixing, reciprocal inspirations and formal and technical dialogues key to the narrative of Louvre Abu Dhabi through three themes. The first, ‘Discoveries and dreams,’ evokes encounters and points of contact between civilisations, whether historically factual (Liotard’s Ambassador, the English arriving in India), dreamed up as in the fantasised image of the Far East in Europe in the 17th and 18th century (chinoiserie, in tapestry or painting), or rendered faithfully to a given moment, notably through the medium of photography (in Egypt and in all the Middle East).

The second, ‘The travelling forms,’ shows how objects travel and with them the inspiration, forms, motifs and ornaments, which in turn become sources for new original creations, forming a rich artistic mix that disregards frontiers and geography.

The last theme ‘Ornamentation and modernity,’ exemplifies the richness of this movement of objects and motifs, showing how ideas travel and how artistic creation uses ornamentation and forms to nourish a new artistic and decorative vocabulary, with explicit reference to the crucial and definitive contribution of the arts of Islam, Africa and Japan.

The exhibition concludes reflecting on how influences between East and West has led to the development of new forms of expression, through an introduction to contemporary art involving a cycle of nine canvases by Cy Twombly.

As with all the exhibitions held in the Saadiyat Cultural District, it is supported by a robust public programme. Two talks in the second series of the Louvre Abu Dhabi: Talking Art Series, coincides with the exhibition which will showcase art works exploring their significance both in art historical terms and in the context of the museum’s growing collection.

A book detailing a significant part of the collection acquired to date is to be published and will be launched in parallel with the exhibition. This book also tells the story of the creation of the institution and the way in which a collection of exceptional quality is assembled for a museum that will mark the twenty-first century.

Developed in the Saadiyat Cultural District in Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi is a museum designed to house aesthetic expressions of different civilisations and cultures from the most ancient to the most contemporary. Born of an agreement between the governments of Abu Dhabi and France, it will display art, manuscripts and objects of historical, cultural and sociological significance.

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