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Saudi Prince donates $20 million to Louvre

A billionaire Saudi prince has donated $20 million to the Louvre Museum to help fund a new Islamic art wing — a freeform, glassy structure that will bring a modern touch to a neoclassical courtyard.

The addition, funded by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, will be built into the southern wing of the sprawling Paris museum. Its wavy roof, made of glass disks, will look like a rippling surface of water.

At 43,000 square feet, the wing will quadruple the existing space for the Islamic art collection, Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres said Tuesday, in outlining plans for the project, which is slated for completion in 2009.

“This project ought to remind the French people and the world of Islamic civilizations’ essential contribution to our culture,” Donnedieu de Vabres said.

The ground floor will display artifacts from the seventh to the 19th century, while the subterranean lower level will house light-sensitive objects, including the Louvre’s prestigious Islamic rug collection.

Architects Rudy Ricciotti and Mario Bellini won an international contest to design the wing — the latest major addition to the 16th-century former palace since I.M. Pei’s controversial glass pyramid went up nearly two decades ago.

The Louvre has one of the richest collections of Islamic art worldwide, with some 10,000 pieces from throughout the Muslim world. Only about a tenth of them are currently on display.

The prince’s donation — the largest ever received by the museum — will cover roughly a third of the addition’s projected $68 million cost. France’s government and the French oil company Total will also contribute to the project, the Louvre said in a statement.

French President Jacques Chirac proposed remodeling the wing three years ago, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, to bridge the divide between East and West.

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Alwaleed, a nephew of Saudi King Fahd and the world’s fifth richest man, is a businessman and generous philanthropist. He owns the Kingdom Hotels International and Fairmont hotel groups, and is a major shareholder in Citigroup and Eurodisney.

The Saudi billionaire was at the center of a controversy after former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani turned down his $10 million donation to Sept. 11 victims. Giuliani was angered by Alwaleed’s remark that the United States should “re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause.”

The Saudi recently made waves by hiring a Saudi woman pilot to join his private aviation firm. Saudi law prevents women from driving.

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