Conceived for the elevation of culture and art, the Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation launched, in 2006, the construction of a building to present art exhibits, multimedia spectacles, meetings, debates, symposiums, and educational activities for young and old. The institution has had its share of legal obstacles, but the museum finally opened its doors in fall 2014, in Paris and now houses Bernard Arnault’s impressive corporate and private art collections.
Arnault, president of Louis Vuitton Hennessy Moet, and the wealthiest man in France, according to Forbes magazine, commissioned Pritzker-winning architect Frank Gehry for the monumental project. The building, located in the Bois de Boulogne, has been no stranger to controversy. The Coordination for Protection of the Bois de Boulogne and its surroundings, a group set on preserving the natural state of Bois de Boulogne, attempted to block construction of the museum arguing that the park, more than twice the size of New York’s Central Park and three times the size of London’s Hyde Park, would block a road that must remain accessible. Court dates have come and gone, but the French Senate approved a bill that will allow the continuation of the project, after overruling a 2011 statute that found the museum was, in fact, too close to the road. For those who visit the museum now recognize it as a venue that serves to augment cultural activity in the area. “I dreamed of designing, in Paris, a magnificent vessel symbolizing the cultural calling of France,” says Gehry about the venue.
Those familiar with Gehry’s previous works, which include the Guggenheim in Bilbao and Prague’s Dancing House, will not be surprised by the unconventional design, “an iceberg dressed in a cloud” as it was described by Arnault’s cultural adviser, Jean-Paul Claverie. However, those who prefer a more conservative approach to architecture may not be dazzled by the structure. Inspired by the gardens and glass architecture of the late 19th century, Gehry envisioned a large building, 130 feet tall and 500 feet wide, with volume and movement. Placed on a pond created specifically for the construction, and set against a background of greenery, the building looks like a ship, in motion, with wind inflated sails. Glass panels cover the structure in a chromatic interplay as different colors and light patterns are reflected throughout the day. From a different angle, the museum takes on the shape of a cloud, transparent and indefinite. Whether one sees an iceberg, a cloud, a ship, or, perhaps, another form, one thing is for sure: Gehry’s innovative design gave way to much conversation.
The Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation now houses pieces by masters such as Picasso or Warhol, alongside more contemporary artworks in the museum. Led by curator Suzanne Page, the museum showcases an exciting mixture of different styles and eras. It also has a restaurant and auditorium. ■
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