This week, a heavenly whale touches down at the edge of the Jardin d’Acclimatation in Paris’s Bois de Boulogne. After more than a decade in the making, the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Bernard Arnault’s private art museum par excellence designed by the starchitect Frank Gehry, opens its doors to the public on October 27.
Festivities began a week earlier, with a presidential dinner held for dignitaries from fashion, art and politics, and have continued throughout FIAC week, when the City of Light’s mellow art scene ignites with international visitors and a full slate of aesthetic attractions.
While Arnault, the chairman and CEO of LVMH, is famously one of the era’s most prolific collectors of contemporary art, limited information has been made public about the actual contents of his collection (generally, mega-collectors know better than to acquire and tell, so as to avoid inflating an artist’s market). So the oohs and ahhs inspired by the torqued structure have been matched by a sense of discovery in seeing what its 10 monumental galleries and in-between spaces contain.
The Fondation’s artistic director Suzanne Pagé revealed the first of three hangs culled from the permanent collection planned for the museum’s inaugural year, including Pierre Huyghe’s iconic, symphonic film drawn from a polar expedition, “The Journey That Wasn’t” (2005); Thomas Schütte’s gigantic plaster figure trudging through mud with a divining rod, “Mann im Matsch” (2009) and an entire gallery devoted to Gerhard Richter, pulling from five decades and manifold styles of paintings.
In addition, there is a solo show of Gehry’s work on the ground floor and a suite of commissions installed throughout the building and grounds, several of which play off facets of the building’s design. Olafur Eliasson has erected a forest of mirrored yellow columns, which cast a sunny glow and infinite repetitions of passersby into the museum’s so-called “grotto,” a network of stone paths alongside reflecting pools and a mesmerizing staircase engineered as a perpetually cascading fountain.
High atop the building’s terraced lookout decks, under one of the 12 glass “sails” that provide the Fondation’s signature, swerving shape, sits a new work by Adrian Villar Rojas — a “living sculpture” — made from compacted layers of organic and inorganic materials sourced from around the world that will decompose and otherwise transform over time.
In the auditorium, Ellsworth Kelly has created a permanent installation consisting of a rainbow stage curtain whose spectral notes are distributed throughout the space in the form of five monochromatic canvases hung at all heights of the room.
As a temple to art built by shopping, the gift shop is nothing to scoff at, either. Forget the mugs and umbrellas and skip ahead to a 3,000-euro Frank Gehry LV box, twisted just so.
© The New York Times 2014