New Louvre Abu Dhabi museum, with a blockbuster collection and brand name, draws the crowds

PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

(THE BUSINESS TIMES) - It wasn't quite a deed of biblical proportions, but the building of the new Louvre Abu Dhabi museum on an upscale 27 sq km island at the south-eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula involved, among other things, a parting of the sea and the creation of a "constellation" of stars. Crowned by a futuristic dome that appears to rise from the sea, the museum - a decade in the making - opened in November 2017 to massive fanfare and the sort of universal expectations normally reserved for a new Avengers movie.

For the most part, it has lived up to those expectations. In a region where rows of steel-and-glass skyscrapers shimmer like giant jewels in the desert sun, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is both an exercise in relative restraint and a classy entry in the Gulf's ongoing can-you-top-this stakes that - if all goes as planned - is merely the opening salvo of a blockbuster plan to develop a cultural district on Saadiyat Island (or Island of Happiness), minutes from downtown Abu Dhabi, aimed at transforming the Emirate from a purely oil-based economy to one where cultural tourism and so-called "soft power" play an increasingly prominent role.

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