French president Nicolas Sarkozy visited the UAE last week to reinforce his nations economic, cultural, scientific and technological cooperation with the UAE.
Sarkozy chaired a security conference with Gulf heads of state on the 25th and 26th of May prior to opening “Peace Camp” – a new French military base on the strategic Strait of Hormuz. 500 troops will be stationed over three sites comprising of a navy and logistics base, a desert air base and a training camp. This military presence shows ‘France is ready to shoulder its responsibilities to ensure stability in this strategic region’ Sarkozy said in an interview with the official WAM news agency. Although The Telegraph reported that the motivations may not be completely altruistic, claiming ‘the French hope that the new base will help persuade the UAE to buy 60 of its Rafale jets … and go ahead with plans for two French-built nuclear reactors’, deals reportedly worth €60 billion.
In another lucrative partnership for France, the president’s trip also included the groundbreaking ceremony for the Louvre Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island. The €150 million museum designed by French architect Jean Nouvel for the state developer TDIC is due for completion in 2013. Other partners include structural engineers Buro Happold and Pascal + Watson as the architects of record, both from the UK. Abu Dhabi has paid €400 million for the use of the Louvre brand name and will pay an additional €600 million throughout a 30 year agreement for extensive the use of the Louvre’s collection and travelling exhibits.
Despite the Louvre Abu Dhabi not scheduled for completion for a number of years, the process of acquisition is in full swing with a budget of more than €40 million a year. Recent purchases include Manet’s ‘The Bohemian’ (1861-62), a Pierre Legrain African-style stool from the 1920s and Mondrian’s ‘Composition in Blue, Red, Yellow, Black’ (1922) which fetched the record price of €21,569,000 at the Yves Saint Laurent sale in February.
These acquisitions are featured in a preview exhibition titled ‘Talking Art: Louvre Abu Dhabi’ that opened at the Emirates Palace Hotel to coincide with the presidential visit. It also features pieces drawn from a number of French museums alongside a section of a Holy Qur’an from the 14th century in an effort to highlight the heritage of both cultures. The opening of this exhibition was followed by a two day symposium titled ‘Museums and Universalism’, launched by Christine Albanel, Minister for Culture and Communications of France.
With this incredible investment in a European art institution, the criticism remains that the UAE is merely importing culture and risks overwhelming the small but burgeoning local art scene. In response, Laurence des Cars, Chief Curator at Agence France-Muséums said ‘Arabia has always been a crossroads, and all cultures will be present at Louvre Abu Dhabi.’
Sources: Telegraph, BBC, The National, Khaleej Times, The Art Newspaper, ArtInfo
Images: Future Command Building, French military base Abu Dhabi via Military Photos, Louvre Abu Dhabi by Jean Nouvel, via Eikongraphia.