When you are Louis Vuitton, you get artists such as Robert Wilson, Olafur Eliasson and Ugo Rondinone to do up your window displays. So imagine when the iconic luxury brand has $134 million to spare. The Fondation Louis Vuitton has been called the company’s gift to Paris by most newspapers. What it is, in fact, is how Jean-Paul Claverie, the man behind LVMH’s philanthropic initiatives for two decades, describes it — “an act of great generosity towards future generations”.
The museum, spread over 11,000 square metres among the century-old trees of Jardin d’Acclimatation, has 11 galleries dedicated to contemporary art, culled from the foundation’s private collection, and a 350-seater auditorium. The building not only borrowed from the design of the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, but also its architect. The legendary Frank Gehry has created a structure that looks like an oversized piece of crystal. With a glass shell covering the body of the building, consisting of 3,600 glass panels and 19,000 concrete panels, the structure reflects the “passing of the hours with the changing light so as to create an impression of continual change”. (The Verge described it as “Frank Gehry drops a spaceship in Paris”). Bernard Arnault, President of the Fondation Louis Vuitton, adds, “Frank Gehry proved a true visionary, embracing the values of excellence and unyielding professionalism that have always defined Louis Vuitton.” And, Claverie says, “His architectural gesture was expressed freely and with full artistic coherence.”
In addition to many music events, the space will also host temporary exhibitions organised in conjunction with other public and private institutions, with direct participation by the artists. And, in an agreement with the city, the ownership of the museum will revert to Paris in 55 years. As the richest man in France, Arnault did not want to describe the project in monetary terms, but he did tell The New York Times, “Let’s just say it is a very expensive sculpture.”
Seen as an image makeover for LVMH, the museum is yet another chapter in a series of initiatives undertaken by the brand to seem less prim. In the last couple of years, it has embarked on nearly 40 exhibitions, books and acts of patronage outside its walls. It has thrown open its closed ateliers to the public since 2011 and even initiated a €300,000 for the Young Fashion Designer’s Prize. This year, sisters Tina and Nikita Sutradhar, from Mumbai, with their label Miuniku, shared the prize with Canadian designer Thomas Tait.
Corporate philanthropy in the arts in Europe has bestowed its largest beneficence to Italy. From Tod’s to Fendi to Versace to Salvatore Ferragamo, all the luxury brands have pitched in to restore and prettify Italy’s greatest treasures, including the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain. It’s nice to see something being done for Paris now. Most first-time visitors to the city don’t step into a museum outside of the Louvre. But, if nothing else, visitors from India may want to stop by for the museum’s sole connection with us — the building is on the edge of Avenue du Mahatma Gandhi.