Today we celebrate 5 years of a unique museum in the world, it is the anniversary of a Franco-Emirati cooperation of great ambition, of a humanist utopia that has become reality. Five years ago, many of you were there for the inauguration. It was a powerful moment, the culmination of a project whose gestation began much earlier, in 2005. What we are celebrating today is actually 17 years of cooperation, 17 years of friendship.
It is the history of these 17 years of work together that explains the maturity and solidity of this exceptional project. Five years after the inauguration, despite the difficulties caused by the health crisis, success is fully on track. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the Louvre Abu Dhabi welcomed more than one million visitors a year, or 3.2 million visitors since the opening, well above all expectations. The strength of its architecture, the quality of its collections, its exhibitions and, more generally, its programme have received worldwide acclaim since the opening exhibition in 2017, «From one Louvre to another: opening a museum for all» (this title was already quite a manifesto!) until the new impressionist exhibition presented today in collaboration with the Musée d'Orsay, of an exceptional scale, gathering 150 masterpieces.
In just five years, the Louvre Abu Dhabi has come to shake the world history of museums by accumulating exceptions: the first «universal museum» in the Arab world and the first museum outside French territory to bear the name of Louvre, this young institution is also the only one in the world to have been born of a diplomatic partnership between two countries. 300 works loaned by French museums have 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 youth have been on school visits since the opening.
Beyond the numbers, what is the name of the Louvre Abu Dhabi? It embodies the dialogue of civilizations, the decompartmentalization, the shift of looks. This museum has made it possible to update the universal vocation of the Louvre, but from a different point of view. It was never conceived as a copy of the Louvre but as a specific, unique project. I insist on this word: this place is unique. It exists only here in Abu Dhabi, and it will never resemble any other project elsewhere. By embarking on this venture together, we have created a laboratory of a new way of working. At the time, the idea germinated after the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Since then, the planet has continued to be shaken by crises, wars, attacks, withdrawal and extremist excesses have continued to gain ground, but let us continue to affirm together common values, a shared humanist ideal. Here, we 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 all those who have been involved in the project since the beginning.
As you know, in the majority of universal encyclopaedic 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 enabled the traditional division of the Louvre into departments to evolve and brought out a more global vision of art history. At the Louvre Abu Dhabi, it is also this global vision of the history of art that prevailed and was pushed even further, less European-centered, guided by the same faith in universalism, but showing a history of civilizations of which the West is not the center. It is a matter of giving to see the correlations between peoples, the crosses between civilizations, the hybridization. All the works gathered here remind us, basically, of our common humanity. The fact that they are presented in resonance gives flesh to what connects us: an Oceanian statue of New Ireland’s Uli ancestor can dialogue with a painting by Rembrandt or Piet Mondrian. Together we have invented here a new kind of universal museum. This reinvention has been a source of inspiration for the Louvre Paris, the Louvre Lens and so many other museums around the world.
These hybridizations make sense here because the United Arab Emirates are a real point of convergence, a crossroads, where Europe, Africa and Asia meet, as from the time of the routes of incense or spices. We are here on a territory where 180 nationalities meet.
We have also developed these intersections between the arts, between eras, between generations. There was never any question of building a museum that was only looking to the past. What makes the DNA of the Louvre, it is this constant link between history and living artists, between archaeology and contemporary art or fashion, painting of the 18thth century and today’s performances (theatre, dance, music, etc.). I am pleased to see that the celebration of the 5th The anniversary is an opportunity to invite international artists such as Jenny Holzer, Yan Pei Ming, Michelangelo Pistoletto alongside Emirati artists such as director and poet Noujoum El Ghanem.
I am also delighted with the educational dimension The Louvre Abu Dhabi with its children’s museum. Very early on, this issue of transmission, education and the awakening of new generations brought us together. It is a fundamental issue.
We would not be here today if a number of key figures had not believed in this project. I would first like to commend the extremely strong political will of the Heads of State who carried this vision: Emirien: the late His Highness Sheikh Zayed, the late His Highness Sheikh Khalifa, and His Highness Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyane. French side: President Jacques Chirac, then Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande and Emmanuel Macron who inaugurated it.
I would also like to acknowledge the crucial role of His Highness Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoun and His Excellency Mohammed el Mubarak. And of course, our dearest His Excellency Dr Zaki Nusseibeh.
I also want pay tribute to my predecessors Without whom this project could not have come to fruition or come to an end: first and foremost Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, for his pioneering role in 2005. All the Ministers of Culture who then carried and developed the project until Françoise Nyssen who inaugurated it, then Franck Riester and Roselyne Bachelot who worked to extend our intergovernmental agreement to project the Louvre Abu Dhabi even more strongly in the future.
Over the last fifteen years, there have been several ups and downs, several storms, but each time the course has been maintained, the project has been strengthened and reaffirmed. It is sometimes the trials that seal the most beautiful and the longest love stories!
A word also for architects: Jean Nouvel, Hala Wardé and all the teams who worked alongside them. As Jean Nouvel said, the Louvre Abu Dhabi was conceived «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 medinas, these districts typical of Arab cities and this magnificent dome allows to dance the sun. Dear Jean Nouvel, we can never thank you enough for this masterpiece, described by President Macron as a «temple of beauty».
I would also like to commend the work and mobilization of Agence France Muséums: its board of directors, its audit committee, its successive directors, now Hervé Barbaret, and its entire team, which works daily with Manuel Rabate, Soraya Noujaim and the entire team of the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
Finally, I want to have a special word for the 3 presidents of the Louvre who instilled passion, passion and daring in this project: Henri Loyrette, Jean Luc Martinez and now Laurence des Cars. I want to associate with my thanks the directors and teams of all the French cultural institutions 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, Centre Pompidou, Versailles, RMN-Grand Palais, Quai Branly, BNF, Fontainebleau, Chambord, Cluny, St Germain en Laye Archaeology Museum, Rodin, Sèvres, MAD, Ecole du Louvre, Institut National du Patrimoine, the Army Museum, or the Fine Arts Museum of Lyon.
This is what makes the Louvre Abu Dhabi project so unique: this unusual alliance between so many institutions that together form the Louvre Abu Dhabi family. A family that has forged ties over the past 15 years and that gives this project the depth of an exceptional human adventure.
We can be proud and happy of the journey we have 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 believe in it deeply. That is why we agreed to extend our intergovernmental agreement for another ten years, until 2047. Our unique partnership is anchored in the long term, and it gives wings! Another 25 years ahead of us, half a century! Half a century of projects and dreams to realize! This is what we owe to our youth.
The future that is emerging foreshadows 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 action of the Louvre Abu Dhabi in the strongest and most significant way possible.
Training, recruitment and career development issues will also be at the heart of our shared reflections. We want to strengthen our alliance in the field of training in museum trades, from welcoming audiences to the conservation and restoration of works, from programming to institutional management.
Together, we will not stop our efforts to continue to make the 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 rank: I am thinking in particular of the house of the Abrahamic family which will strengthen the dialogue between religions and cultures, the Sheikh Zayed National Museum, the Museum of Natural History, Guggenheim or Team Lab.
Beyond the Louvre Abu Dhabi, we will continue to develop this strategic partnership that we have built between France and the United Arab Emirates, whether in the field of music, creative industries, but also by carrying out a common fight for the protection of heritage in conflict zones through the international alliance ALIPH.
I have full confidence in the future of our relationship and in our capacity to cooperate boldly and imaginatively, to build bridges between our countries, but also with other countries and other parts of the world, to help build, on a global scale, a culture of peace, a culture of dialogue and openness.