The Fondation Louis Vuitton that opens its doors to the public on October 27 has hit the Parisian cityscape like a seismic event, forever transforming it with a new icon of 21st century architecture.
The building, singular, arresting and breathtaking, was designed by the Los Angeles-based architect, Frank Gehry, to serve as a private art museum and cultural center commissioned by Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive of the luxury-goods conglomerate, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. “The Fondation opens an exciting new cultural chapter for Paris,” said Mr. Arnault in a statement issued before the opening of the Fondation, a private initiative made possible by the corporate patronage of LVMH and the Group’s companies, notably Louis Vuitton. The watch division of LVMH, headed by Jean-Claude Biver, also includes Hublot, Zenith, Bulgari, Chaumet and TAG Heuer. “My personal passion for artistic creation fueled the decision to build the Fondation as a place that not only pays tribute to artists but inspires them in a virtuous circle of creativity,” Mr. Arnault added.
Built at a staggering price tag rumored to have exceeded its reported €100 million budget, the site took six years to complete. Standing alone surrounded by the green of the Jardin d’Acclimatation, a children’s amusement park immortalized in the writings of the French literary giant Marcel Proust, located on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne in the west end of Paris, the building was erected on public land subject to a long-term lease at the end of which, in 2062, ownership of the building will revert back to the city. “This building is a gift to the city of Paris,” said Jean-Paul Claverie, advisor to Mr. Arnault and manager of LVMH's philanthropic activities at a press preview. “The Fondation is a project that goes beyond anything that LVMH has ever undertaken in the public interest.”
Mr. Gehry, 85, best known for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao or the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, also built the Cinémathèque Française in Paris in 1994. “My buildings are always a response to a place and time, and I know this park is a sacred place in France,” Mr. Gehry said in an erudite reference to Mr. Proust.
The ship-like structure, made of curved glass, metal and wood, ripples and deploys its wind-filled sails atop 126,000 square feet of space divided into 11 galleries that will be used for exhibitions of modern and contemporary art from the private collection of Mr. Arnault, but also of works belonging to the Fondation or on loan from other institutions. For the opening, the Fondation has selected a sparse sampling of works by Gerhard Richter, Pierre Huyghe, Thomas Schütte and Ellsworth Kelly, among others.
The auditorium on the lower floor where the Chinese pianist Lang Lang will perform on October 28 looks onto a stepped waterfall that cascades into a moat surrounding most of the building that in turn, completes the sailing-ship imagery. A reflecting pool near the waterfall is rhythmically lined by the geometric poetry of yellow Murano-glass and mirror-paneled columns, an installation by the Danish artist, Olafur Eliasson. A restaurant in the lobby - named Le Frank - will feature inventive fare by the Michelin-starred chef, Jean-Louis Nomicos. Just above the building’s entrance, a stainless-steel LV logo, along with three antique Louis Vuitton trunks hanging high on an atrium wall, remind visitors of the luxury maison whose generosity made the cultural project a reality.
For its main inaugural show, the Fondation has chosen to celebrate Mr. Gehry and his “historic” building – in Mr. Claverie’s words - with an exhibition of scale models and videos that retrace the stages of construction, a show that runs concurrently with a retrospective exhibition of Mr. Gehry’s oeuvre at the Pompidou Center. “Frank Gehry is the undisputed king of Paris today,” Mr. Claverie said.
“All of my buildings are collaborations with my clients,” Mr. Gehry said. “I value that interaction, it makes the process more exciting because I am never sure where it is going.” Mr. Gehry’s creativity may be partly intuitive but his latest achievement should propel Paris into a new dimension in the contemporary art world. “I hope I have done well,” concluded Mr. Gehry humbly. “This place is like a violin. I have built it, others are free to play it.”