The ambiguous meaning of a coffer. The opening of the Louis Vuitton Foundation for Contemporary Art

The word “coffer” is often used to mean a place to hide treasures, and in many languages it is also used to label buildings that can be considered as jewels themselves. In the rhetoric of the Foundation Louis Vuitton’s opening celebrations, this word frequently runs on people’s mouth. In this context, we should ask: “What is the meaning of the opening of a new foundation,  a new cultural actor on an already congested scene such as the Parisian one?”

There are, of course, other and more important questions. Many philosophers, artists, critics, designers and writers refused to join the inauguration of the Louis Vuitton Foundation for Contemporary Art, explaining their decision in an article: L’art n’est-il qu’un produit de luxe?, Is art only a luxury product? To these intellectuals (among them Giorgio Agamben, George Didi-Hubermann, Jean-Luc Nancy, Robert Cahen and many other) art is begging. And these financial groups are speculating and taking advantage of there involvement in the art market.

This opening showed it.

Louis Vuitton Foundation for Contemporary Art, Paris ©Iwan Baan 2014

Louis Vuitton Foundation for Contemporary Art, Paris ©Iwan Baan 2014

First of all, the Louis Vuitton Foundation for Contemporary Art opens his doors in a curious way, three phases to let everyone understand the new power in contemporary art scene. The inauguration will last one year, from October 2014 to September 2015, with exhibitions, presentations of the collections and different events. The first phase, the current one, is the discovery of the architectural structure, conceived by Frank Gehry. We are in front of an ambitious building, a sort of space boat capable to catalyse the attention much more then the “collection”. The hope is that this overattention will last only this first phase. Every inch of the inauguration is a self celebration, a conceptual spiral, a mise en abîme of the structure and the architect. After few days – but we should say, much earlier that that – the building already rose as the symbol of the Foundation. Outside, a fascinating complex of glass’ sails, 13.500 m2 of surface. Inside, an exhibition dedicated to the architect, in dialogue with another one, held in the same time at the Centre Pompidou. Models showing the different construction phases, classic time-lapse videos and sketches realized by Frank Gehry, that, in the magic and conceptual world of the architect, should have served as guide to build this museum.

Frank Gehry's Model, Louis Vuitton Foundation for Contemporary Art

Frank Gehry’s Model, Louis Vuitton Foundation for Contemporary Art © Fondation Louis Vuitton Mazen Saggar

At the underground level a film by Sarah Morris, of course about the building. In this way being inside the ship is more like seeing it from outside, considering how many representations of it we can have in front of us. The film is visually well shot: it is a sort of documentary showing the structure and the context really well matched with a fascinating soundtrack from Liam Gillick. The problem is that this film is conceived as an enormous commercial spot to celebrate the power of the Foundation and the economical empire of Bernard Arnauld, Louis Vuitton’s owner. Not only the fashion world, but also appendices such as the Christian Dior perfumes and the Moët & Chandon champagne. The result is a beautiful delirium of bubbles, flowers and architecture. At the end, a re-re-celebration of the building and his patron.

From another point of view, the Foundation has a perfect and paradoxical setting in Paris. It has been built next to the Jardin d’acclimatation wanted by Napoleon III to give a place to a zoological park both scientific and entertaining. Today it has almost lost its first purpose and it is an appreciated entertainment park inside the Parc de Boulogne. In this context, the Foundation finds an ironical placing, creating a glamorous contemporary art space next to an entertainment park.

Apart from the fact that we are in front of Louis Vuitton’s temple, almost every work is settled to let the viewer “understand” the space. Seven new works have been commissioned by the Foundation to be site specific. Particularly interesting are the installation by Olafur Eliasson – “forty-three prim-shaped columns of varying widths, which are placed along the walkway in the Grotto around the pool,” covered by mirrors and yellow mosaics – and the intervention of Ellsworth Kelly for the Auditorium – where “five monochrome panels, in yellow, red, blue, green and purple, accompanied by the stage curtain, create chromatic notes in the space that are both clean and vibrant.” These works are really well realized and, in this case, the dialogue with the architectonic structure is fundamental.

In this celebration three works have been really well chosen: an interesting video walk by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, a 2005 video by Pierre Huygue, A Journey That Wasn’t, and 6 septembres, another work of 2005, made by Christian Boltanski with found footage from the INA, the French institute of the audio-visual. Walking through these works we can appreciate this new “strange character” in the Parisian scene a little bit more, this boat floating in a green park next to a mass of children looking for their own entertainment. Looking at these works means to hope in an impulse to search contemporary researches in art, not only contemporary’s attention.

Pierre Huyghe, A Journey That Wasn't © ADAGP © Louis Vuitton Foundation for Contemporary Art Marc Domage

Pierre Huyghe, A Journey That Wasn’t © ADAGP © Fondation Louis Vuitton Marc Domage

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by Francesco Federici
in Focus on Europe

Wed Development by Digital Art Factory