If you take a walk through the Bois de Bologne in Paris you’ll discover many of the things you expect to see in a park: playgrounds, walking trails, and ducks. You may also find yourself stumbling upon a majestic architectural wonder that looks as if it was placed there by a very chic race of aliens (image right: view from the park). The Foundation Louis Vuitton is a Frank Gehry-designed art museum (and biannual Prêt-à-Porter show venue) that rivals this architectural giant’s Guggenheim in Bilbao. Its doors have been open to the public shy of a year, and already some of the world’s most iconic artworks have been exhibited inside this nautically inspired space.
What you may expect to be the grand entrance – a wide series of deep-grey stairs leading down to the base of the building – is in fact a water feature (image, right). The optimistic swoosh of the mini waves bouncing down the stairs give a basis for understanding the majestic curved walls of the building. Simultaneously transparent and reflective, they’re inspired by sails billowing in the wind, held together seemingly impossibly by thick beams of wood and metal. Jumping between the immovable sails are window cleaners dressed in rock climbing gear – a quirky reminder of the reality of maintaining a usable sculpture of this scale.
Louis Vuitton may not be a role player in the cosmetics market, but Bernard Arnault, chairman of the luxury conglomerate LVMH and the man responsible for the Foundation LV, also controls parts of Dior and cosmetics giant Sephora. And so, while waiting in line outside the museum to buy tickets, you are presented with an umbrella to make sure your make-up doesn’t melt in the scorching summer sun (image below).
Unavoidable as you enter and head for the upper galleries housing the permanent collection is an infestation of balloon speech bubbles by artist Philippe Parreno (image above) up against the ceiling. The permanent collection includes an installation by Marina Abramović which requests the viewer to meditate for almost an hour, multicolour self-portraits by Andy Warhol, and a view of the Eiffel Tower (image, right – middle) from between Gehry’s sails – amongst others.
The first exhibition, Keys to a Passion, closed early July. A blockbuster collection of modern art by artists who liked to break rules, the show allowed viewers to drown in a deep-red Rothko, float on Monet’s water lilies, and contemplate issues of the cochlea when confronted with Munch’s The Scream.
Walking through the building, the mind boggles at the thought of constructing such an intricate and elaborate structure. You need not feel mentally inferior for not being able to comprehend it. As Gehry told VOGUE in September last year, “to build it, we used the same programmes that are used to construct supersonic airplanes, in calculating wingspan and lift.” And yet, not for a minute does the visitor feel lost or confused in navigating the internal galleries. The layout of the museum allows for an almost unnoticed intuitive navigation – an art in itself.
Of course the museum is still in its infancy. There are large oceans for its curators to explore and navigate, but just by looking at the building it’s obvious that they have as much wind in their sails as they’ll need to conquer any territory.