‘A long overdue recognition’: Paris’s Arab World Institute to turn part of its building into an art museum

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Jack Lang, chairman of the Arab World Institute in Paris, announced that it will open a “civilisation and art museum“ after a two-year renovation of its Jean Nouvel-designed building. It will be the first pan-Arabic art museum in the West. Only Qatar, with the Mathaf, and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, with the Barjeel Foundation, have galleries dedicated to modern art throughout the Arab world.

The French Ministry of Culture will contribute €6m for the work on the building, which should start in a year’s time. The Institute, which is an intergovernmental foundation of France and members of the League of Arab States, has a collection of 2,500 modern and contemporary works—including additions from a recent important donation—900 antiquities and manuscripts, and 4,500 photographs from the 19th century onward.

The new museum will occupy parts of all seven levels of the building on the banks of the Seine. Its director, Nathalie Bondil, former head of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, intends to stage cross-cultural galleries spanning periods throughout history, from Neolithic and Mesopotamian times to the present. She says she wishes to show how “Arab culture is part of our culture“ through “a long overdue recognition of the Arab civilisation“.

Special focus will be given to Palestinian art and the role of women in arts and music. Specific galleries will be dedicated to photography, books and manuscripts. The Institute is also seeking to create an outdoor space to showcase works by living artists, has yet to secure sponsorship for that space.

Dia Al-Azzawi, Sculpture, From Mesopotamia, 1979 © Musée de l’Institut du Monde Arabe

Plans for the new museum spaces were triggered by the donation, made official last month, of 1,677 works by 148 artists from the collection of French-Lebanese dealer and collector Claude Lemand and his wife, France. The donation includes works by Abdallah Benanteur from Algeria, Shafic Abbood from Lebanon and Dia Al-Azzawi from Iraq. A gallery named for the couple will be dedicated to showing works from their donation.

Jack Lang, 83, whose mandate ends in March after a decade as head of the Institute, is seeking reappointment for a fourth mandate. But he is being challenged by Jean-Yves Le Drian, a former minister of defense and foreign affairs.

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