Friday, September 11, 2015

Day 30: The Louis Vuitton Foundation

The reason we went to the Louis Vuitton Foundation, a new gallery for contemporary art in Paris, was to see its building, which was designed by Frank Gehry, a world-class architect. Dan and I are fans of Gehry's, and we have made it a point to see several of his buildings.

Gehry is known for spectacular architecture, and he was tasked by the Foundation to create a building that would become a destination in itself, attracting an audience to come see what's inside. It was a dream situation for an architect because there were ample funds and few restrictions. Also, there were fewer zoning issues than usual for Paris because it is located in a park on the edge of town called the Bois de Boulogne. In the art world, the Foundation was big news when it opened in October, 2014.

Although we took many pictures of the building, it is so large, and it's design is so multi-faceted, that we couldn't get a shot that gives an idea of the whole, so I'm going to use an internet grab for that.

Park side of the Louis Vuitton Foundation
Internet grab
From a street-level perspective, every view gives you a jumble of different elements. Here's my shot of the entrance.

Entrance to FLV
Jan's iPad photo
All photos are by me, unless otherwise labeled.
Here's a shot from across the street.

For a unified silhouette, the best view is of the end that projects over the water feature.

The street-level reflecting pool ripples down a multitude of shallow steps toward the basement level of the building. This is the way it looks from inside. The ripples are mesmerizing.

Water feature from interior, lower level
Here's a view of the water feature from an upper floor.

The building has several levels, each with terraces, and as I walked around, I was frequently struck by features of the architecture. Although the outer shell is a cluster of smooth curves, the architect left the elaborate supporting structure evident for all to view, like seeing the framework of a stage set, because the inner structure is beautiful in itself.

View from an inner landing of the outer structure
One of several terraces
Structural support of sleek outer shell
Views of the park and the city beyond are provided by clear materials in the shell and open spaces on the terraces.

View of the Bois de Boulogne and the city beyond
Besides a spectacular venue, the Louis Vuitton Foundation commissioned two marvelous permanent works of art. The reflecting pool surrounds the irregularly shaped building at a subterranean level, and it provides the setting for a hall of mirrors and lights created Olafur Eliasson, whose work we also noticed at the Pompidou Center. It consists of 43 triangular columns of various widths. Two sides of the columns, which are lit from the inside, are covered in mirrors; the third, by a mosaic of yellow glass.

Olafur Eliasson, b. 1967
Inside the horizon, 2014
Selfies are irresistible.

Better than a theme park
Dan and Jan Inside the Horizon
The columns reflect in the pool, complicating the ever-changing image.

Here's a view looking down from the ground floor to show how the artwork fits within the building.

View from ground floor
The site of the other permanent installation is the auditorium in the lower level, which is used for musical performances and lectures. Covering the proscenium is a mural-size painting of a color spectrum. It is complemented by single-color panels on the walls. This installation was designed by minimalist Ellsworth Kelly, whose work we noted in the Pompidou Center, and who died in December 2015 at the age of 92.

Ellsworth Kelly, 1923-1015
Spectrum VIII, 2014
Matching panels are arrayed around the auditorium.
The Foundation has a classy restaurant in the entrance hall called 'Le Frank,' for the architect, Frank Gehry.

Gehry designed a lighting system for it that looks like a school of fish swimming overhead.

Fish lamps designed by Frank Gehry
We had a blow-out meal there of fresh white fish with gourmet vegetables, including creamy mashed potatoes in their own bowl, accompanied by champagne. We had an insanely rich dessert and latte. Service was superb, and fairly quick.

Fish with green beans; creamy mashed potatoes in the side dish.
Rum baba
The Foundation does not have a permanent installation of contemporary art. That would be a contradiction. They use their gallery space for changing exhibits, since 'contemporary' art is always changing. One large show featured experimental videos—shaky and blurry on wide screens—accompanied by raucous contemporary music. In my inebriated and sugar-fied state, this show made me queasy, and we had to ask a guard to help us escape from a warren of dark screening rooms.

Looking for some art that hung quietly on the walls, we found an exhibit of art from the mid-20th century by artists that we already knew.

Gilbert & George are a pair of British artists, both born in the early 1940s, who have produced art together as a duo since they met each other in art school. They use figures representing themselves in all their artwork, in this case flanking either side, dressed in suits. The sticks they, and some of the other figures, are holding represent "the freedom that youth have struggled to win." The row of figures along the bottom represent youth struggling to make their way in the big city.

Gilbert & George, born in 1943 & 1942
Class War, Militant, Gateway, 1986
Though not himself Jewish, American pop artist Andy Warhol did a set of portraits of ten renowned figures of Jewish culture as a commercial enterprise, sponsored by two art dealers. Dan and I had seen a show of these portraits in San Francisco at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, but photography had not been allowed, so we were pleased to have a chance to shoot them here. Unfortunately, the silk-screen portraits are shielded by highly reflective glass or plexiglas, so all my pictures have glare and reflections.

Andy Warhol
Warhol's Jews, 1980
Though Warhol's intentions and style may have been commercial, his selection was historically significant and his images are riveting. I'm going to present all ten images here because everyone should remember who these people were.

The Marx Brothers
Vaudeville, stage and film comedians
George Gershwin
American composer George Gershwin (1898-1937
Louis Brandeis (1856-1941)
First Jewish Justice of the United States Supreme Court
Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)
American writer, poet and playwright 
Franz Kafka (1883-1924)
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
Founder of the psychoanalytic school of psychology
Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923)
Celebrated French actress
Golda Meir (1898-1978)
 Israel’s fourth Prime Minister and one of the founders of the State of Israel
Albert Einstein (1897-1955)
Theoretical physicist
Martin Buber (1878-1965)
Philosopher and educator
A young protege of Warhol's, Jean-Michel Basquiat, was a Brooklyn kid whose parents came from Haiti and Puerto Rico. As an artist he started with graffiti as a teenager in the 1970s, but his talent was such that influential people kept discovering his projects and giving him a leg up. He connected with Warhol in 1980, and Warhol became his idol and mentor. During the 1980s Basquiat was a sensation both in the art world and the world of pop music. In 1988, the year after Warhol's death, Basquiat died of a heroin overdose at the age of 27, adding even more drama to his persona. His style, called Neo-Expressionism, combined drawing and painting, abstraction and figuration with graffiti, poetry and doodling to create a critique of contemporary life, or, you might say, an extended cry of rage. He is not easy to like, and he didn't mean to be.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1960-1988
Grillo, 1984
As for Contemporary art, there were only four works that interested me.

Thomas Schütte is a German artist, born in the 1950s, whose work had first come to our attention with a powerful sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, on this trip. The same sculpture, a giant figure of two people fighting while tied together, had appeared again in Amsterdam, in an exhibit in the median of a street. The Foundation had a different giant figure, but also featuring a sort of contradiction or conflict. This sculpture shows, simultaneously, a man who is stuck in the mud and a man who is dowsing for water.

Thomas Schütte, b. 1954
Man in Mud, 2009
Another sculptor we first discovered at MoMA whose work also appeared here is Isa Gengken, a German woman born in the late 1940s. The same work was shown in the entrance halls of both museums.

Isa Genzken, b. 1948
Rose II, 2007
On one of the terraces I found this extraordinary work by an Argentinian sculptor named Adrian Villar Rojas, who was born in 1980. This is a massive structure formed of dirt, rocks, and living plants from around the world, embedded with found objects and articles of the artist's clothing. It's fascinating to walk around it identifying different elements, and it is moving to think of its meaning as a whole.

Adrian Villar Rojas, 1980
Where the Slaves Live, 2014
Adrian Villar Rojas, 1980
Where the Slaves Live, 2014
K. 364 by Douglas Gordon, born 1966

The most wonderful artwork of the day couldn't be depicted in photography. It took place in a frighteningly dark gallery. I had to feel my way along the wall of a sort of corridor. Finally I entered a confusing space with several large video projections—angled this way and that—some on screens, some reflected in large mirrors. I stumbled around trying to figure out what to look at, and bumping into other confused people. The images were ultra-close-ups of two musicians—one played violin, the other viola—and the conductor. What made it wonderful was they were playing a symphony by Mozart, and the sound system was so alive that it was like being in the midst of the music, in the midst of the orchestra. I was so captivated that I sat down on the floor to listen, but a guard helped me find a row of benches. It was the first time I ever really understood why people love Mozart so much. The title, K. 364, is the designation of the symphony in the Mozart catalog.


The Louis Vuitton Foundation building is a gorgeous sculpture that you can walk around in. It makes you feel light-hearted and receptive to new ideas. It is a great place to exhibit contemporary art.