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Accueil > Entretiens > Interview with Manuel Rabaté, Director of Louvre Abu Dhabi

Interview with Manuel Rabaté, Director of Louvre Abu Dhabi
Article publié le 14/06/2019

Questions by Anne-Lucie Chaigne-Oudin

Manuel Rabaté has been Director of Louvre Abu Dhabi since 2016 and oversees all aspects of its operations and activity. The institution welcomed more than one million visitors in its first year, making it the 77th most visited museum worldwide in 2018. Rabaté has worked on the museum since its inception, joining Agence France-Muséums a year after the signature of the intergovernmental agreement between France and Abu Dhabi, first as CFO, then Secretary General and CEO (2008-2016). Manuel Rabaté was Deputy Director of Cultural Development (2005-2008) of musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac for its opening, managing the launch of the museum’s first touring exhibitions, notably Masques - Beauté des Esprits at the Bahrain National Museum. He was Deputy Director of the auditorium of musée du Louvre (2002-2006), where he participated in developing new programmes accompanying the creation of the Islamic Art department. He is a graduate of Sciences Po (1998) and HEC business school (2001), and a Knight of France’s National Order of Merit.

Louvre Abu Dhabi was inaugurated on November 11, 2017. Could you please review the highlights of this first year (exhibitions, acquisitions, loans, etc.) ?

One of our proudest achievements to date is the number and diversity of our audiences. In 2018 alone, we welcomed more than 1 million visitors to our museum, not only international tourists but also local residents, including new art enthusiasts who have not traditionally visited museums and cultural institutions. The promenade under the dome is a social space, allowing visitors to stroll and gather. We place our audiences and their experience at the heart of everything we do and offer.

© Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi. Photo by Hufton+Crow.

As part of our first season A World of Exchanges, we presented four international exhibitions : Japanese Connections : The Birth of Modern Décor ; Roads of Arabia : Archaeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia ; Rembrandt, Vermeer and the Dutch Golden Age : Masterpieces from the Leiden Collection and the Musée du Louvre ; and Photographs 1842 – 1896 : An Early Album of the World. These exhibitions complement the displays in our permanent galleries, which include our own collection as well as loans from French international institutions. In the past 10 years, Louvre Abu Dhabi has acquired more than 650 masterpieces in accordance with a rigorous and academic acquisition process. We have leveraged our unprecedented access to some of the world’s most praised collections, those of our 13 French partner museums led by musée du Louvre but including also musée d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, musée Guimet et musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac. These loans enrich our permanent galleries with exquisite art works and artefacts thanks to the collaboration between the governments of Abu Dhabi and France.

Additionally, in our first year, the museum catered to the local community by presenting family-oriented exhibitions and displays in its Children’s Museum while also undertaking several cooperation projects between the UAE and France such as CO-LAB, an exhibition showcasing new commissions by UAE-based artists working with French manufacturers. We are also very proud to cement the Louvre Abu Dhabi within its ecosystem and to have built collaborations in the form of additional key loans with UAE museums from all over the country - Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Zayed National Museum, Al Ain National Museum, National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah, and the Department of Culture and Tourism-Abu Dhabi - and with museums from the Arab world (the Saudi Commission for Tourism & National Heritage, National Museum – Sultanate of Oman and Jordan’s Department of Antiquities).

Beyond the galleries, we are also laying the groundwork for a continuous development in the fields of research and restoration. Safeguarding our universal cultural heritage is one of our key missions as we expand those capabilities.

© Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi. Photo by Hufton+Crow.

You mentioned that 1m visitors visited Louvre Abu Dhabi in its first year. Who are they and what mediation have the museum designed to welcome them ?

Just as the one million mark is significant, the breakdown of our audiences is even more critical to our mission as a universal museum, with 60 to 70 per cent coming from abroad and 30 to 40 per cent being UAE residents. The museum is driving tourism to the Emirate and visitors come from all parts of the globe, including the Middle East, Europe and Asia, with France, Germany, China, UK, the US, India and GCC being the top visitors. This is an incredibly important feat for us because it embodies both of our aspirational roles : first and foremost being a museum for locals which is rooted in the community and offers multi-purpose and educational spaces ; and secondly a global institution which contributes to international museography and sits at the global table.

© Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi. Photo by Hufton+Crow.

Creating unique experiences for visitors is at the heart of everything we do. Not only through the beauty of the museum’s architecture, but also through the unprecedented collaborations between the French museum partners and the quality of the regional and international loans integrated into an existing rich collection. Our objective is to inspire and engage the next generation of museum-goers, artists and creatives, from children to young adults and people of determination. Being inclusive is extremely important to us as a universal museum, and more relevant than ever with the celebration of the Year of Tolerance in the UAE in 2019. Through multisensory guides for the hearing and visually impaired, we strive to make our spaces accessible to everyone. It is a point of pride for us to witness how these efforts are received, for example having been chosen as one of many historic landmarks to serve as the location for the 2019 Special Olympics ’Flame of Hope’ earlier this year.

© Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi. Photo by Hufton+Crow.

The museum also welcomes thousands of children and their families to the Children’s Museum, to learn about the history of the world without opening textbooks. We also feel very privileged to welcome many Heads of State and celebrities who carve out the time in their busy itineraries to visit us at the museum. We continue to try new things to bring more diverse audiences - for example we’ve taken artworks from our collection to new members of the public by installing our critically acclaimed Highway Gallery as the world’s first roadside gallery, and we organise kayaking tours around the building, offering participants a guided tour of the museum’s stunning architecture, as seen from the sea.

©Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi. Photo by Waleed Shah.

In this region with strong international and cultural ambition, what is your project for the museum ?

Louvre Abu Dhabi’s vision is to celebrate cross-cultural connections that transcend geographies and civilisations to see humanity in a new light. This permeates all aspects of our operations - from curation and programming to acquisitions and loans and it makes sense for Abu Dhabi, sitting at a crossroads between East and West, a centre of exchange, which it has always been. We have many exciting plans for the years ahead and we want to remain innovative, bold in our vision and relevant to audiences. Thanks to our strong regional and international collaborations, we have access to some of the world’s most esteemed cultural institutions and experts to support a year-round roster of exceptional international exhibitions and programming.

As the first universal museum in the Arab world, we must continue to develop a voice that resonates with an increasingly globalised audience. Being a young museum in this region empowers us to try new things. We remain committed to continually experimenting and changing as the museum grows and our ideas evolve. The annual rotation of art works in our permanent galleries allows us to highlight new perspectives and constantly refresh interpretations of the universal narrative. We will continue to acquire exceptional works based on the museum’s narrative and with the highest standards of excellence and academic rigour, to compensate for the decreasing number of loans each year from our French museum partners.

©Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi. Photo by Waleed Shah.

We will continue to invest in research, whether it be through our state-of-the-art conservation facilities which is a resource that will increasingly support the needs of the Arab World, but also researching our audiences - not only is the museum a destination but in a sense it is a laboratory for testing new ideas. In addition to research, we continue to publish books, host international conferences and build the museum’s network with our peers all over the work.

The imprint Louvre Abu Dhabi has left on the cultural scene since the agreement was signed in 2007 is remarkable and it is an honour to be a part of that. In 10 years, the number of degrees related to working in a museum has increased and we have an impressive wave of Emirati museum professionals working at the museum – in fact half of our staff are currently UAE nationals. It is critical that this achievement continues in the coming years. We must also remain as a leader with a constructive role in the continual growth of the local cultural scene and artistic ecosystem, supporting what is a great community of artists, galleries, biennials, fairs and art centres, and offering opportunities and tools to help creators develop their practice.

©Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi. Photo by Waleed Shah.

Can you tell us more about the upcoming exhibitions at Louvre Abu Dhabi ?

Following our successful first season A World of Exchanges, Louvre Abu Dhabi’s next season, to launch this coming September, Changing Societies, will present several compelling international exhibitions. In 2019 and 2020, we will see the following, for which I encourage everyone to mark their calendars :

Rendezvous in Paris : Picasso, Chagall, Modigliani & Co (1900-1939) (September 18, 2019 – December 7, 2019)

Encounter Picasso, Chagall, Modigliani, Lempicka, Delaunay and 40 of their contemporaries - visionary artists who came from all over the world to make the French capital their home. Including approximately 85 masterpieces which are being exhibited for the first time in the Middle East, Rendezvous in Paris : Picasso, Chagall, Modigliani & Co (1900-1939) tells the story of an artistic explosion that inspired some of the most innovative Modern Art of the early 20th century.

10,000 Years of Luxury (October 30, 2019 – February 18, 2020)

A history of the lavish and the luxurious through 250 extraordinary objects from across the globe – celebrating fashion, jewellery, art, furniture, design and much more. Marvel at the ways in which luxury has been interpreted by diverse cultures, with a special emphasis on the prominent role women have played in its cultural evolution across the millennia. From extravagant offerings for the divine, to golden furniture fit for a palace, the exhibition also showcases the iconic couture of fashion houses such as Dior, Balenciaga and Chanel.

Furusiyya : The Art of Chivalry between East and West (February 19, 2020 – May 30, 2020)

The exhibition explores a unique and extraordinary link, where furusiyya in the East meets Chivalry in the West, and how it led to a specific social class and culture in the Islamic East and Christian West. Tales of knightly culture have been told throughout history – of brave heroes fighting for their sovereign, their religion and their honour ; stories of war, loss, comradery and courtly love, are told through 130 rare artworks, most of them seen in the region for the first time. The exhibition is organised by Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge and curated by Elisabeth Taburet-Delahaye, Director of Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge ; Carine Juvin, Curator of Department of Islamic Art, Musée du Louvre and Michel Huynh, Chief Curator of Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge.

Charlie Chaplin : When Art Met Cinema (April 15, 2020 – July 18, 2020)

A world first, Charlie Chaplin : When Art Met Cinema, explores the connection between the great Charlie Chaplin films and the artistic creations of avant-garde artists of the time, including Marc Chagall, Man Ray and František Kupka, artists at the centre of modern art movements such as Cubism, abstract art and Surrealism. Featuring around 150 paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, documents and film scenes, the exhibition explores Chaplin’s often satirical examination of a rapidly changing world through ‘The Tramp’ ; the comical and at times controversial character that made him famous and adored. The exhibition is organised by the Musée d’arts de Nantes and curated by Claire Lebossé, Curator of the collections of modern art, Musée d’arts de Nantes.

©Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi. Photo by Waleed Shah.

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