FONDATION LOUIS VUITTON – FRANK GEHRY’S MODERN MASTERPIECE FOR PARIS
“I dream of designing a magnificent vessel for Paris that symbolises France’s profound cultural vocation.”
With these words, the famous Canadian-American architect, creator of Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum (1997), gave his blessing to the opening, in October 2014, of his latest masterpiece, the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris. We were lucky enough to be in Paris that week and joined perhaps 10,000 others for its first open weekend.
The idea for a new cultural centre in Paris had been in the mind of Louis Vuitton’s owner LVMH and its visionary CEO, Bernard Arnault, for some 20 years, although the collaboration with Frank Gehry had commenced only in 2001.
The Fondation is located within the historic Jardin d’Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne, close to the eastern edge of central Paris. It is thus grounded in the popular image of a garden inaugurated in the 1860s, that evokes the magic of childhood and the mysteries of the great natural world, where exotic plants and animals (including kangaroos!) brought back to France during the age of discovery, were acclimatised to the European climate.
Gehry was inspired by the massive cast iron dome of the Grand Palais to develop his flying and floating curved glass shells that give the building its distinctive identity. He has created in glass for Paris a building of such dynamism that it matches and surpasses what he created in titanium for Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
The Fondation Louis Vuitton essentially comprises two architectural ideas. Gehry likens the inner core of working spaces, public circulation and a series of galleries, to an “iceberg”, sheeted in the most wonderful array of curving white panels. The soaring glass panels reflect the dramatic composition of billowing sails so distinctive in those images of early 20th century racing yachts.
As with the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, there is a maze of upper level terraces and platforms for the public to explore and look out over the forested park, the Jardin, and the distant Parisian skyline.
The Fondation Louis Vuitton can be reached via a pleasant 10-15 minute stroll through the parkland from metro Sablons (Line 1). Alternatively, there is a shuttle bus service to and from the Etoile, in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe, near the corner of Ave. de Friedland. It runs every 15 minutes and gives visitors a rare glimpse of the exclusive eastern district of the city that is not on the usual tourist circuit. The journey costs 2 Euros and has proved to be a very popular way to access this new cultural icon for Paris.
As well as a wonderful space for art exhibitions, the Fondation also has an Auditorium seating an audience between 350 and 1,000 depending on its configuration. The Auditorium offers a musical program throughout the year which attracts a wide range of some of the world’s greatest performers. This year alone such artists as Sir András Schiff, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Seiji Ozawa, Gautier Capuçon (recently in Australia for a concert tour), but also the new generation young performers.
As you’d expect, there is a very good bookshop dedicated to architecture, contemporary art and related themes, as well as a small but very classy range of merchandise such as mugs, tote bags, umbrellas and other gift items.
There is a small café, appropriately called ‘Le Frank’, operated by Michelin-starred chef Jean-Louis Nomicos, and open for lunch and dinner. If you’d prefer something light and quick from one of the little food carts outside, or one of the nearby brasseries or cafés in the park, you can ask staff for a pass allowing same day re-entry.
The Fondation has become one of the truly great cultural venues for Paris. We’ve returned several times and have enjoyed some fantastic exhibitions. Keep an eye on the Fondation’s own website for details of their exhibitions when you’re planning your next Paris adventure.
As an aside: we were at the Fondation for a wonderful exhibition on loan from London’s Courtauld Institute ten days ago. Strolling through the park from metro Sablons, as we approached we stood and looked at a huge construction site about 50m from the gallery, on the site of an old, run-down multi-storey rectangular building that had once housed park administrative offices. Signage on the hoarding suggests that it is to be the corporate headquarters for the Fondation and also designed by Frank Gehry. It’s a conversion of the former building, rather than a complete knock-down and re-build–perhaps a first for Gehry? It seems that the rigid planning controls within the Park will not allow any new building to be greater than the volume of a previous building on the same site. This was one of the great challenges facing the architects when designing the original Fondation gallery, a challenge Gehry overcame by lowering the new building below ground level. The new building is due for completion later this year by all accounts–watch the space!
“We wanted to present Paris with an extraordinary space for art and culture, and demonstrate daring and emotion by entrusting Frank Gehry with the construction of an iconic building for the 21st century.” Bernard Arnault
FONDATION LOUIS VUITTON is located at :
8, avenue du Mahatma Gandhi, Bois de Boulogne, in the 16th arrondissement