Louvre Abu Dhabi and Branding

Keywords: cultural colonialism/ mega museums/ starchitects/ cultural identity/ historical loss

“The island offers a harsh landscape, tempered by its meeting with the channel, a striking image of the aridity of the earth versus the fluidity of the waters. These fired the imagination towards unknown cities buried deep into the sands or sunk underwater. These dreamy thoughts have merged into a simple plan of an archaeological field revived as a small city, a cluster of nearly one-row buildings along a leisurely promenade.

This micro-city requires a micro-climate that would give the visitor a feeling of entering a different world. The building is covered with a large dome, a form common to all civilizations. This one is made of a web of different patterns interlaced into a translucent ceiling which lets a diffuse, magical light come through in the best tradition of great Arabian architecture. Water is given a crucial role, both in reflecting every part of the building and acting as a psyche and in creating, with a little help from the wind, a comfortable micro-climate.”

Jean Nouvel

On October 9, 2007, the French Parliament authorized the creation of this museum. Jean Nouvel, who also planned the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, is the museum’s architect. The museum agreement with Abu Dhabi was praised by French President Jacques Chirac, who said it represents a particular vision of the future in which each party to the agreement is proud of its heritage and identity but still acknowledging the fair equality of all cultures.

The museum was opened by French President Emmanuel Macron, UAE Vice President Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on November 8, 2017. The museum is part of a thirty-year deal between the Abu Dhabi government and the French government. The contract forbids the establishment of any identical activity in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, or Iraq under the name of the Louvre.

Architecture and museum branding

In the twenty-first century, everything is about the sale, everything is a brand, and products are the world. As such, brands serve as a means of identity, appreciation, consistency, and collectivity, in addition to distinction. They allow for the connection of organizational and personal cultures and personalities, as well as the mediation of definitions between suppliers and users and the establishment of a sense of cultural belonging.

Insofar that it will lead to maintaining a higher likelihood of tourism and a higher level of reputation, the importance of a brand name is as valuable as the value of tangible properties. The fee of $525 million required to tie the Louvre’s name to Abu Dhabi’s museum is a clear indication of how ‘big name’ organizations are gradually using their cultural trademarks and prestige for financial benefit. At the same time, new museums and emerging economies are rapidly attempting to leverage on existing brand names and exploit their influence in order to quickly achieve popularity, prestige, and reputation, boost their own profile, and “make for not have a proven collection or status to expand upon.” This developing symbiotic partnership is more than just a question of cultural exchange, communication, oversight, or management advice; it’s also part of an increasing economic pattern in which the selling, exchanging, and distribution of products and their titles has become a significant currency and policy in global cultural markets.

The majority of European museums are now eager to ensure new approaches to fund their existence and events whilst still covering their running costs. As a result, new marketing and fund-raising tactics, as well as often unexpected partnerships, have been developed to address the pressures of globalization, precarious markets, and financing constraints. Expansionism and neoliberalism are two emerging movements that are reshaping the position of museums and reshaping power relations between industrialized and developing countries, as well as between existing and new museums.

This new trend of commissioning well-known international names and strategically attaching well-known major brands to new museums and cultural projects in the Gulf has become an important means for Gulf countries to gain “instant cultural recognition” and prestige, as well as an expression of a political drive to establish a new identity for the country and modernize it. According to McClellan, prominent European architects strengthen cultural relations with countries in which Abu Dhabi can depend for experience and item loans. The Zayed Museum, which is affiliated with the British Museum, will be designed by Norman Foster of the United Kingdom, while the Louvre will be designed by Frenchman Jean Nouvel. Zaha Hadid, an Iraqi-born British architect, is the most well-known Arab architect, while Tadao Ando, a Japanese architect, represents Asia. Frank Gehry is a Canadian architect who has been in the United States for a long time.

They both have personalities that are distinct from their origins. Taken together, the architects’ selections represent Abu Dhabi’s ability to view itself as a global city accessible to global currents in art, architecture, and cultural tourism. To obtain a better understanding of this measurable pattern and its fundamental dynamics and reasons, one must first comprehend the context and purpose of the museum concept itself, as well as how museums have long been strongly correlated to power structures and identity-building processes. When contemplating the Louvre Abu Dhabi, one is compelled to remember the museum’s host institution.

Museums in the memory space

Museums, as memory, serve to bridge the gap between the past, current, and future. Museums, on the other hand, lend material structure to authorized narratives of the past, which is institutionalized as collective memory over time, unlike personal memory, that is mediated by an individual’s living experience. Museums act as anchors for official remembrance in this way. The method, ironically, entails both recalling and losing, as well as inclusion and isolation. Museum curators establish important requirements, identify cultural hierarchies, and form historical awareness while making collecting policy decisions.

That being said, Maria Nicolic defines in her Ph.D. thesis, museum clusters are manifests of spatial design.  Manifest as a term consists of an assertive declaration of a new statement which could be count as a form of iconic quality.  There is an undeniable relationship between museums and power and identity construction mechanisms. I wanted like to open up these issues by using the case study of the Abu Dhabi Louvre and its brand value.

As previously said, the Louvre Abu Dhabi reflects an ambitious creation in the emirate’s and UAE’s evolving cultural landscapes, which has drawn some interest from the art market and Western media, mostly in the form of critique. Any of these debates center on whether Abu Dhabi is simply ‘buying’ or ‘importing’ a cultural identity rather than creating its own, as well as the degree wherein the curatorial decisions for the art collections and content reflect a restrictive and risk-averse approach to art and culture. Add to that the following query about crowds, especially local audiences: can the Louvre Abu Dhabi and its neighboring museums draw local guests, or will they remain vacant spaces but for tourists and expats on rare occasions? There are legitimate issues that affect not only new museums like the Louvre Abu Dhabi but then also existing ones across the world. Nonetheless, these discussions may be chastised for being often couched in a condescending and almost imperialist tone.

**same bibliography applied in the “Critical Remarks On Art Institutions In The UAE” article