A small, squat stone figure from Bactria (an ancient territory north of the Hindu Kush mountains in modern-day Afghanistan) and a terracotta Cypriot idol from the early Bronze Age are placed next to Yves Klein's ANT 110, part of the French artist's 1960s Anthropometry series for which he asked models coated in blue paint to lie on canvases.
The pieces span more than 5,000 years of history, yet they hold true to a universal language: the depiction of the human form. For this reason they have been chosen to introduce the unveiling of the Louvre Abu Dhabi's collection as it currently stands.
Birth of a Museum is the first full-scale exhibition of the yet-to-be-completed museum's permanent collection since 2009. Taking its name and much of its cultural expertise from the highly respected Le Musée du Louvre in Paris, the Louvre Abu Dhabi has attracted global attention since it was announced as the first universal museum in the Arab world. Now that the opening date has been pushed back to 2015, this exhibition is the best glimpse into how the museum's final content will take shape.
Opening in Manarat Al Saadiyat on April 22, the exhibition will comprise 130 pieces acquired by the Abu Dhabi team over the past five years. Curated by Laurence des Cars, the curatorial director at Agence France-Muséums in Paris, the exhibition is meant to convey to regional audiences the ubiquitous significance of art and culture since the dawn of civilisation.
"This is a reflection of universalism and also of the potential of the Louvre Abu Dhabi," says des Cars. "We are connecting cultures and civilisations and trying at least to open people's minds and eyes to the diversity of artistic expression throughout time. We have been working for five years to get the right narrative."
The three human figures mentioned above will be placed at the entrance of the exhibition. Hissa Al Dhaheri, the project manager, says they show the importance of the expression of the human figure across the ages.
They also introduce the first of the exhibition's six themes. After figures, visitors will be taken through galleries dedicated to ancient worlds, such as Minoan and Roman Egypt, and the sacred, showing pieces that reveal religious practices and rites. Then come galleries for the eastern image and the western gaze, which offer art from the Mogul Empire and Rajput in India to Japanese Zen painting and some of the greatest names of European painting, including Bellini, Jordaens, Picasso, Manet and Gauguin.
The final section is called cultures in dialogue, and it attempts to show that artistic narratives are not bound to time and place. Instead, they travel and develop with each new interpretation, and the result is a kind of global creative vocabulary that underpins all artistic expression.
This is key to what the Louvre Abu Dhabi is trying to portray, says des Cars. "The six themes reflect the DNA of the museum," she says. "We are trying to make a collection that displays the echoes and resonances between civilisations and cultures, and we have been careful to balance the objects in that respect. This is very different from placing beautiful objects next to each other. The exhibition and the museum will not be about displaying beauty but producing an institution that mediates with the public. Yes, we want people to feel emotionally connected with the objects but in the end it should be an educational experience."
Al Dhaheri, who is expected to announce a cooperation with Abu Dhabi Educational Council in the next few days, calls the project the start of a new "educational ecosystem".