View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What’s the Purpose of Visiting Abu Dhabi’s Louvre or any Museum?

That is the question asked by Michael Kimmelman in his New York Times article in relation to the Louvre in Paris.

It is a good question for those creating the new Louvre, Abu Dhabi, due to be completed in 2012.

This is a question that every tourist should ask, even when visiting a modest museum or gallery.

I have been visiting many galleries and museums over the summer so I am glad of the question, “Why do I do this?” Why don’t we stay home and look for magnificent art work on the Internet for as long as we like?

Kimmelman asks, “What exactly are we looking for when we roam as tourists around museums? As with so many things right in front of us, the answer may be no less useful for being familiar.”

One Minute for Mona
Kimmelman has some interesting descriptions of visitors to the Louvre as they walk around the many pavilions.

Listen to this observation about the amount of time people spend at each item:

“Almost nobody, over the course of that hour or two, paused before any object for as long as a full minute. Only a 17th-century wood sculpture of a copulating couple, from San Cristobal in the Solomon Islands, placed near an exit, caused several tourists to point, smile and snap a photo, but without really breaking stride.”

Has the enlargement of galleries and their offerings meant that we now race around rather than linger and gaze? Often the cost of entry to galleries and museums forces us to see everything in one quick and usually tiring visit. It feels like trying to read an encyclopaedia in a morning. But don’t you love the free galleries in London where you can go to one room or one floor for your morning fill of beauty?

Kimmelman says that galleries and museums have always been about ‘self-improvement’, about being able ‘to see better’.

Rabbi Sidney Brichto tells of his visit to the galleries in Florence and how they evoked within him a sense of awe and “a sudden overwhelming awareness of human suffering.” It is about seeing. Kimmelman is right.

Slow Looking
There is no one motivation for visiting a gallery and no one way to look at a painting but Kimmelman says, “Slow looking, like slow cooking, may yet become the new radical chic.”

Art in Arabia
I hope the new Louvre Abu Dhabi encourages ‘slow looking’ through the price of its entry fee so that it encourages people to come back and linger.

I hope it and all the galleries and museums in the UAE will increasingly enable visitors to ‘see’ deeper into the Emirati culture and probe with reverence and respect the unique cultural treasures that emerge from the land and its history.

Michael Kimmelman, At Louvre, Many Stop to Snap but Few Stay to Focus, New York Times, 2 August 2009.

Words Can Never Hurt Me? SFS.
You are Wasting Time! Or Are You? SFS.
Approaching With Reverence the Blank Canvas, SFE.
Rabbi Sidney Brichto’s Unexpected Day Trip to Florence, SFE.

Dr Geoff Pound

Geoff can be contacted by email at geoffpound(at) on Facebook and Twitter.

Image: Visitors at the Louvre. (Photo courtesy of Valerio Mezzanotti and The New York Times at the above link).