The French government has struck upon a truly brilliant method to dump their underutilized art objects on the culture-starved, status-craving gulf statelet of Abu Dhabi. The dynamics of the relationship are not that different than what Duveen realized in the late 19C when he saw that Americans had a lot of money and Europeans had a lot of art. Primary difference nowadays is that the relationship is between states and their public collections, but the dynamics work just the same as it did between private sellers (impoverished aristocrats) and buyers (American robber barons) in Duveen’s time. And of course, these days it’s the gulf states that have a lot of cash.
The Louvre will license its name to a museum to be built in the Culture Quarter of Saadiyat Island off the coast of Abu Dhabi. The relationship, according to this report from IHT (quoting Le Monde), would last 20 years and would bring the following cash flows:
Abu Dhabi will finance construction of the museum and, Le Monde reported, will pay between $260 million and $520 million for the use of the Louvre’s name for a minimum of 20 years. In practice, however, the relationship with the new museum would be managed not by the Louvre, but by a new International Agency of French Museums, where the Musée d’Orsay, the new Musée du Quai Branly, the Palace of Versailles and the Pompidou Center would also be represented.
Over the next 10 years, Le Monde noted, this agency is to provide management expertise for a fee of $91 million; four temporary shows per year worth a total of $195 million; and up to 300 art works on permanent display in exchange for $260 million. Abu Dhabi will in turn commit itself to spending $52 million per year to build its own collection. After 20 years, the Abu Dhabi Louvre will adopt its own name.
Well, just imagine: such a mercenary cash-based approach to their artistic patrimony didn’t sit well with the French cultural elite, and they started a petition against it. But, whatever, it’s France. You knew that was gonna happen. Good thing the cultural elite don’t drive tractors.
The most important aspect in the whole deal, in terms of the art market, is the last condition: “Abu Dhabi will in turn commit itself to spending $52 million per year to build its own collection.” Over 20 years, that’s $1 billion they’re going to spend on the art market! Now here’s the brilliance in the plan: where’s Abu Dhabi gonna spend that money? They can spend it in London, in NY, or they can spend it in France. If France is setting the canon by determining what they show in the museum, they’ll be going a long way towards determining what will be bought for the permanent collection: i.e. French Art. In fact, I don’t put it as beyond possibility that French Museums may begin to sell off their unloved underexhibited storeroom material on unsuspecting Arabs.