Galleries are exhausting, places a novice critic wanders around slowly, nodding sagely, frowning and expressing seemingly-knowledgeable scrutiny. If you know nothing of significance about art and artefacts, once you abandon any pretense to the contrary, wandering round a gallery really amounts to looking for pieces you’re drawn to because they look pretty/interesting/unusual/familiar.
A taxi, a coach, a bus and three and a half hours later, I arrived at the new Louvre Abu Dhabi from Dubai, which by my standards is a remarkably long way to go for a gallery.
There is no point my going off on one about history and artistic greatness, I would only be relying on Google. Instead, this is my take on a slow walk (somehow, probably unprecedented, I spent, almost to the dot, two and a half hours within the gallery) round the Louvre Abu Dhabi in chronologically (ish) ordered observations.
1. Friday, 1pm, and visitors were streaming into the entrance. Not a time to visit if you want to avoid crowds, which I do.
2. The first counter you come to, with a short queue, if you take note, is “Information”, from which you cannot buy tickets. People who know about art queue here to join Art Club or ask informed questions.
3. The ticket counter a little further through the entrance has far longer queues and each transaction takes longer than you might expect. It costs 63 AED (c£15), which includes all temporary exhibitions.
4. The toilets are signposted downstairs. To find them requires a series of lefts and rights based on guesswork rather than signage.
5. The toilet doors don’t look like toilet doors. I felt out of touch with modern living, trying to ascertain where exactly the toilet cubicles were.
6. I batted away the offer of a map. This was a mistake.
7. Room 1, erm, no paintings. No signs. No intro. I wanted to rush through to room 2 but could already see there were no paintings there either. I then found the small floor-level signs but never read the bigger sign that introduced the room. I went round room 1 again and realised it was “really old” artefacts from all over the world. I liked seeing, eg, three gold masks from hundreds of years “BCE”, each very different and each from a different continent yet displayed together.
8. Dates on signs, considering UAE is a Muslim rather than Christian country, are BCE or CE, “before common era” or “common era”, and mean the same time-wise as BC and AD.
9. After room 3, slightly worried I’d already seen everything, I was braced to quibble the cost of the admission for a mere three rooms and not a single painting. I returned to the beginning and asked whether that doorway was also the exit. It was then that I took a proffered map and was shown that there are 12 rooms and that 4, as you’d expect, did actually lead off from 3; I hadn’t noticed the narrow corridor.
10. It became apparent that the theme, as I perceived it, was creativity from 1000s BC to the present day across the world. I liked this idea.
11. I took photos only of artefacts and paintings I liked, including a Guatemalan “Vase in the form of a human face” (300BC-100AD) and “Two Bombay Grenadiers” wearing military uniform, as you’d expect, but with what looks like boxer shorts rather than trousers (1800-1810).
12. There are a lot of smaller, usually dark with low lighting, rooms with additional displays. People seem to spend far too much time photographing these crowd-pleaser displays, eg a lit gold bracelet with a black background looks dramatic and striking but to photograph it you need to get close to avoid the reflections, etc. Grrr.
13. I know I took photos too but, seriously, too many people taking selfies and photos seemingly solely for the benefit of social media and to the delay of people wanting to look at displays without being caught in someone else’s photo.
14. The green emergency exit lights started really annoying me as they reflect in a lot of pictures and cabinets.
15. There seemed to be a high proportion of French and Indian visitors to the gallery. I don’t know what I expected but probably not for any nationality to particularly stand out.
16. I was surprised and impressed to start recognising paintings. I was also surprised by how much I enjoyed looking at pretty much everything, except perhaps some Italian sculptures of the kind which I couldn’t help thinking I much preferred seeing outdoors in Florence, for example.
17. Unusually for me, a lot of the 21st century art and sculpture held my attention.
18.It being way past lunch time by the time I exited the 12 exhibition rooms and onto the terrace under the great colander roof, I thought a Snickers bar from a vendor might be a suitable pick me up. I objected to AED 8 (c£1.80, AED 2.5 ish usually), abstained from snacking, drank bottle three of my water supply and went in search of the loos.
19.No signs for toilets. I asked a security lady by the children’s museum and she sent me up a floor to a toilet there. What’s with the difficulty finding loos? This one didn’t have fancy, confusing doors.
20. I contemplated leaving to catch the next bus, which I could see across the waterway, but got distracted taking photos of the building.
21. While wandering aimlessly looking for yet more arty shots, I ended up kind of directed into a temporary exhibition space on globes. I love globes, but I was tired and it was dark and the green emergency lights and other lights annoyed me even more, reflecting on most display glass.
22. Insightful, unusual globe and astronomy exhibition but I had already long ago passed my saturation point for concentration levels. (NB this display is only open until 2nd June 2018)
23. I somehow left that exhibition and found myself encouraged into another, on the Louvre in Paris, which I pretty much just walked round, feeling guilty for merely throwing a few cursory glances. There were lots of guides talking to individuals and small groups in these rooms and it felt far too serious and I wasn’t in the mood for appreciating 18th/19th century French artwork, sorry. (NB This closes on 7th April 2018)
24. I enjoyed the shade, breeze and the dappled light from the huge lacey roof and the presence of the water all around the building. I took an arty photo of a statue on a pillar that I thought was a creative use of a broken statue. Turns out it was a Rodin, albeit a damaged one.
25. As I walked towards the exit alongside white buildings with blue sky and hot sun above, I contemplated the gallery. I enjoyed it, but for me it would have been better in two visits, the main 12 rooms and then the temporary exhibitions (I really would have enjoyed the globe exhibition a lot more had I not been so weary). I also felt that some pieces, particularly statues, didn’t sit right in their new setting. As for directional signage, surely that will improve.
Would I go again? Yes, but only if I were staying in Abu Dhabi and not for a few years, the surrounding area in its construction state slightly spoils the overall look of the splendid architecture. I have read more about the gallery since my visit (including the horrendous, disturbing working conditions for the construction labourers) and, while I felt mildly disappointed I hadn’t noticed the dark blue page of the 900 AD blue Quran, I liked that I wasn’t influenced by what I “should” see.
(Look at the official website for practical information but bear in mind the Louvre Abu Dhabi is closed on Mondays. Also, there is an outdoor street food area about ten minutes’ walk along the shore, continuing along the path in the direction you exit the gallery, ie sea on your right, car park on your left. On Friday, it opened at 4pm (to midnight), I am not sure about other days but I suspect earlier as, on Google Maps, TDIC HQ next door looks like an office complex whose workers would surely enjoy lunch choices in an area as yet undeveloped – it’s just sand and construction around Louvre as at March 2018. The food and coffee I had was good and significantly cheaper than in the Louvre.)