France on Tuesday signed a controversial deal worth 1 billion euros (Rs5,772 crore) to set up a satellite of the famed Louvre museum by 2012 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Under the 30-year agreement, the government of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, will pay 400 million euros just for the Louvre brand name, of which 150 million euros will be paid within a month.
French culture minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres and the head of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, Sheikh 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 Louvre chairman Henri 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 museum will be named, will be built on the island of Saadiyat off Abu Dhabi. Construction of the 24,000-sq. m gallery, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, will start later this year and cost 83 million euros.
The government of Abu Dhabi, the largest and wealthiest of the UAE’s seven members, will pick up the tab.
The accord sets the stage for the establishment of a universal museum dominated by classical western art covering “all civilizations and all eras, including the contemporary era”, while respecting the two sides’ “cultural values”.
French museums will loan out artworks for a maximum of two years on a voluntary basis, in an arrangement that will last 10 years.