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Soon, art lovers may decide to skip Paris, Rome and New York in favour of Abu Dhabi.

The oil-rich capital of the United Arab Emirates is embarking on a years-long  venture to transform itself into a world-renowned arts and culture destination, the crown jewel of which will be the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Dubai-based construction firm Arabtec announced on Tuesday that it had won the 2.4 billion dirham construction contract for the Middle East outpost of the famous French museum and will begin construction immediately.

Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, the museum will encompass some 24,000sqm of pavilions, plazas, alleyways and canals, with about 8,000sqm of exhibit space. When completed, the museum, located on Saadiyat Island, will resemble a perforated dome floating above the water, designed to represent rays of sunlight passing through date palm fronds in an oasis. The Gulf Emirate paid 4.8 billion dirham to use the Louvre name for 30 years, receive training from Louvre staff and gain access to the renowned Paris museum’s artwork collection. The construction is expected to be completed in 2015. 

The Louvre Abu Dhabi will feature artwork from around the world, including pieces on loan from several French museums including the Louvre, the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Musee d’Orsay and the Palace of Versailles. The UAE site has already acquired a sculpture of a Bactrian princess dating to 3000 BC, a fountain from the early Ottoman period, the paintings Breton Boys Wrestling by Paul Gauguin, and The Subjugated Reader by Rene Magritte, as well as a collection of French and American photography.

Of course, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is just one part of the Saadiyat Island’s Cultural District, an ambitious plan to house the largest single cluster of world-class cultural assets in the world. Also in the works are the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, a modern art museum designed by world-renowned Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry; the Sheikh Zayed National Museum, which will chart the nation’s history; The Performing Arts Centre, containing a music hall, concert hall, opera house, drama theatre and performance space, designed by prizewinning Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid; and the Maritime Museum, an homage to the UAE’s seafaring history, designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando.

During the November 2012 Abu Dhabi Art Fair, Louvre Abu Dhabi architect Nouvel extolled the planned cultural district. “I’m very proud to participate in the materialization of this golden age, and this pushes us to go higher and beyond and further, because we are doing something that the whole world is looking at.”

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