France on Tuesday signed a controversial deal worth one billion euros (1.3 billion dollars) to set up a satellite of the famed Louvre museum by 2012 in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Under the 30-year agreement, the government of Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE, will pay 400 million euros (525 million dollars) just for the Louvre brand name, of which 150 million euros will be paid within a month.
‘This is a fair price for using the brand name,’ Louvre chairman Henri Loyrette told AFP.
French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres and the head of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, Shaikh Sultan bin Tahnoun Al Nahayan, signed the unprecedented accord at the city’s luxury Emirates Palace hotel.
The project has sparked outrage in France where some 4,650 people -- including dozens of museum directors, curators and art historians -- have signed a petition in protest.
Critics accuse the Louvre of ‘selling its soul’ by loaning out its prized collections overseas, and dismiss the Abu Dhabi project as a gimmick that will deprive the Louvre’s 7.3 million annual visitors in Paris.
But Loyrette and his department heads say it will contribute to the spread of French culture and benefit museums in France financially.
The ‘Louvre Abu Dhabi,’ as it is be named, will be built on the island of Saadiyat off Abu Dhabi.
Construction of the 24,000-square-metre (260,000-square foot) gallery, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, will start later this year and cost 83 million euros (109 million dollars).
The government of Abu Dhabi, the largest and wealthiest of the UAE’s seven members, will pick up the tab.
The accord signed Tuesday sets the stage for the establishment of a universal museum dominated by classical Western art covering ‘all civilisations and all eras, including the comtemporary era,’ while respecting the two sides’ ‘cultural values.’
French museums will loan out artworks for a maximum of two years on a voluntary basis to the museum, in an arrangement that will last 10 years.
Some 300 works will be loaned out in the first four years, with the number going down to 250 and 200 in the next two three-year periods.
A ‘reasonable’ number of the artworks will have to come from the Louvre, the agreement says, without defining what would be considered ‘reasonable.’
‘We will be able to (loan out) major pieces without emptying the Louvre,’ Loyrette said.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi will be one of four prestigious museums, including a Guggenheim contemporary art museum, to be built in a ‘cultural district’ on Saadiyat.
The Abu Dhabi government plans to turn the island into a world class tourist resort and a home for 150,000 people by 2018 as part of an effort to snare a larger slice of the Gulf region’s booming tourist industry.