The wonders of the galaxy are the focus of a new family exhibition at Louvre Abu Dhabi.
Launching on Thursday at the in-house Children’s Museum, Picturing the Cosmos is an interactive mix of artworks spanning thousands of years, with acquisitions from the soon-to-be-built Natural History Museum Abu Dhabi and a playground resembling the rugged red terrain of Mars.
The National was one of the first to explore the exhibition. Here's what to expect.
'Building a bridge between the UAE and space'
Running for two years and created in collaboration with the UAE Space Agency and Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, the exhibition hopes to inspire the young about the endless possibilities of space, while sharing the galaxy’s role as a source of inspiration to previous civilisations.
“We are proud to have a unique exhibition that provides young minds with opportunities to discover, imagine and make sense of the world around them based on observation of artworks and interactive experiences,” says Ugo Bertoni, a director at the museum.
“Through this exhibition, we are building a bridge between the museum, art history, science and the UAE vision of space exploration.”
A special welcome from space
Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi greets visitors as they enter.
In a specially recorded message from the International Space Station, Al Neyadi urges visitors to relish the experience on offer.
“On this journey, you will discover the universe and ways of depicting it in arts across different times and cultures,” he says. “Today you are on a date with an experience that combines education and entertainment at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. I hope you enjoy this exhibition.”
Space on screen
Upon entry, visitors are encouraged to register their name, age and preferred language to receive a barcoded paper bracelet to access the games and quizzes within the exhibition.
Spread across three floors, Picturing the Cosmos aims to take visitors on a journey from Earth to the red planet, with a stop at the International Space Station.
The first floor, titled Observation of the Sky, has an ethereal nocturnal setting with nearly 20 pieces showcasing how the sky and stars were measured throughout human history.
Joseph Paul Mesle’s Moonrise Over Laita, a loan from the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, is a dreamy watercolour depicting a luminescent moon hovering over a gloomy landscape.
In addition to the globes from 17th and 18th century Pakistan and France, as well as sundials from ancient Egypt and 19th century Japan, there is some welcome multimedia content.
A screen documents how space has been featured on screen, such as in Georges Melies’s groundbreaking 1902 film A Trip to the Moon and the popular 1970s Japanese anime series Grendizer.
“What we want to show is how the sky has always been a source of inspiration for many artists," says Anne Hauguel who, along with Louvre Abu Dhabi colleague Amine Kharchach, curated the exhibition.
"It really is fascinating to see how the sky was something that connected artists through the centuries and civilisations."
One of the oldest rocks in the world
Inspired by the International Space Station, the second floor, under the theme The Planets and the Constellations from Earth, takes visitors out of this world.
Resembling the command post from Star Trek, the room encourages visitors to contemplate the planets and constellations surrounding us.
The space has some memorable displays, such as Emirati astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri’s Sokol space suit.
There are also two collections from the Natural History Museum Abu Dhabi, fragments of a lunar meteorite found in north-west Africa and another meteorite found in the Australian town of Murchison in 1969.
Speaking of the latter, Kharchach says the rock is estimated to be seven billion years old. “It is probably one of the oldest artefacts on Earth and it comes directly from one of the asteroid belts, so it contains elements that are prior to the solar system itself," he says.
Mission to Mars
The third and final floor, with the theme Space Navigation and Mars Exploration, invites children to go on a Mars mission.
“We want people to think about the future and what is coming next when it comes to space exploration,” says Hauguel.
“So, Mars is the ideal place because this is what the UAE is exploring and collecting more data, as we have seen recently with the UAE's Hope probe.”
Children are encouraged to prepare for their own Mars mission through a range of activities held in an outdoor play area, such as choosing the right vegetables to take on board and maintaining your balance while jumping on a small trampoline.
Gaming is the future of museums
Picturing the Cosmos reflects the latest evolution of children’s museum curation through its prevalent use of interactive gaming.
From the barcoded bracelet, which allows guests to collect points and adjust the task’s difficulty levels to the relevant age, to the puzzles and quizzes, Hauguel and Kharchach say this is the future.
“We have noticed that with some of our previous exhibitions, children may miss some of the artwork,” Hauguel says. “So we really thought hard about how to use storytelling and multimedia to really channel and focus their attention to the artwork.”
Kharchach agrees, stating such bells and whistles should never deter from the real goal, which is appreciating the artwork and exhibitions.
“Gamification is a means to engagement. Using storytelling and other interactive approaches will help us reach that goal,” he says.
“This can be the most challenging part of creating because it requires us to think of it holistically, from the artwork selected to the visual clues, but it will result in children having a more powerful experience."
Picturing the Cosmos opens to the public on Thursday and runs until June 2025. More information is available at louvreabudhabi.ae