Macron's Gulf tour: UAE's Louvre Abu Dhabi contract extended to 2047 and more French-Saudi culture deals

Renewal of Abu Dhabi deal means the Louvre can partner with the network of museums planned for Saudi Arabia's AlUla region

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French president Emmanuel Macron meets the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud at the Royal Palace in Jeddah on 4 December Photo: Abaca Press/Alamy

French president Emmanuel Macron meets the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud at the Royal Palace in Jeddah on 4 December Photo: Abaca Press/Alamy

French president Emmanuel Macron’s recent tour of the Gulf was not only the occasion for concluding multi-billion-dollar sales of fighter jets and helicopters. It was also an opportunity to further cement cultural co-operations with the countries of the region, confirming France’s role as a key player there.

The United Arab Emirates and the Musée du Louvre in Paris renewed the Louvre Abu Dhabi partnership for another ten years, extending to 2047 the licence to use the Louvre brand name that was part of the initial €1bn deal signed in 2007. The agreement guarantees additional revenues of €165m for France, with payments expected in 2022 and 2023. In exchange, the Louvre has promised to lend four iconic works to the Abu Dhabi satellite (no details have yet been given on the selection). Opened in 2017 on Saadiyat Island, Jean Nouvel’s landmark museum welcomed more than 2 million visitors during its first two years, before being temporarily closed because of the Covid-19 crisis.

In Jeddah, the French and Saudi culture ministers, Roselyne Bachelot and Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al Saud, signed a five-year memorandum of understanding to “enhance cultural cooperation and exchange across a broad range of cultural fields”, from heritage to cinema to visual arts. No specifics or budget have been made public, but the deal includes the project for a French-Saudi cultural centre known as Villa Hegra in the north-west region of AlUla, which is the subject of a separate agreement with the Kingdom’s Royal Commission for AlUla. The Villa Hegra aspires to become the “Villa Medici”, the French Academy in Rome, of the Middle East.

Talks are also ongoing with the Centre Pompidou on its contribution for the Perspectives Gallery, a contemporary art museum planned in the AlUla oasis. And, now that the Louvre Abu Dhabi contract has been renewed with the Emiratis, the Louvre is also free to start negotiations defining its contribution to the network of museums planned in the Saudi province. Discussions had been dragging between both parties because, according to French sources, Abu Dhabi had wished to maintain exclusivity over the Louvre’s presence in the Gulf region.

A spokesperson for the Louvre tells The Art Newspaper that “article 3 of the 2007 agreement [for the Louvre Abu Dhabi] has been renewed without change”. Under this article, the Louvre only committed itself not to repeat a similar “Louvre museum” elsewhere, but that does not preclude other forms of cultural partnerships.

Negotiations are also under way to confirm how much funding France will receive from Saudi Arabia to support French museums and heritage—a Saudi pledge in the 2018 intergovernmental agreement for AlUla that is expected to amount to several hundred million euros.

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