The New Louvre

In 2015, the Abu Dhuabi Louvre is scheduled to open on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, borne of a French and Abu Dhabi government arrangement. Besides some conflict and controversy surrounding the construction of the Louvre and also the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, the projects seem to be going strong, and the question has arisen as to whether or not Abu Dhabi Louvre initiative will be successful as a means of producing the “Guggenheim effect.”

The “Guggenheim effect” refers to the economic, political, and cultural ramifications of a city’s gentrification or revitalization through the means of cultural or artistic initiatives. According to Vicario and Monje’s “Another ‘Guggenheim Effect’? The Generation of a Potentially Gentrifiable Neighbourhood in Bilbao,” these revitalization strategies are based on six foundational elements (based on the 1980’s gentrification of Bilbao): firstly, the city planners had to embrace a “post-industrial vision” with a primary objective of “[securing] our place among the ‘world-class’ metropolitan centres”; second, the city’s image had to be rebranded into a “better-looking, innovative, attractive city”; third, they would achieve this rebranding through aggressive “place-marketing” campaign,” including the creation of new cultural facilities; fourth, “downtown” initiatives would transform residential areas into commercial property sites; fifth, the revitalization would have to rely on and build an urban leisure economy; and finally, a new governance system had to be enacted as the agents of the revitalization through privatized means of gentrification and lobbying.

Now, to translate these six elements of revitalization to Abu Dhabi, there seems to be some extent of overlapping efforts and some divide. Firstly, Abu Dhabi is not by any means a decrepit city that requires a sort of injection of funds or international capital investment; it already has an extensively established oil market upon which the city depends and thrives. In this way, it might be difficult to compare the Bilbao effect to the “Guggenheim effect” occurring in Abu Dhabi.

In the overview of the Louvre Abu Dhabi on the Saadiyat Island’s homepage, the curatorial concept of the Louvre is meant to address “universal themes and common influences will be highlighted to illustrate similarities arising from shared human experience transcending geography, nationality and history.” This seems to be deliberately aligned with the culture of Abu Dhabi, and even Saadiyat island in particular, in response to its extremely culturally mixed demographics as a result of its oil market and consequent booming economy. Saadiyat Island is also a particularly mixed-culture hub of Abu Dhabi because of its housing ofNYU’s Abu Dhabi campus, and its plans to create the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. These seem to be aligned heavily with Vicario and Monje’s third element of rebranding through “place-marketing,” with a heavy emphasis on the creation of cultural facilities. Additionally, Abu Dhabi has in fact been conspicuously using privatized means to lobby for and gentrify their areas, such as theTourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), keeping them aligned with the sixth point of revitalization.

Perhaps the cultural initiatives that the government is enacting is a means to counteract the nation’s dependency on their oil market, which is a limited resource, by using culture as a sustainable resource. In this way, the Abu Dhabi Louvre and its other initiatives might be the perfect remedy. However, it seems that this “culture” that is being cultivated in the city may be one that is ironically not the culture of the nation itself, but rather an utopian, visionary globalized culture. Abu Dhabi seems to be a city that is slowly deteriorating in its former markers of culture and status (including in the driving out of street vendors, as Arfa Rehman of NYU Abu Dhabi argues) in order to become a city with vague ties to its own history, focused on future endeavors and a blurring of global lines.