Uber-rich Arabs, Russians, Thais and Chinese acquire football clubs, but the French – been there, done that, got the t-shirt – establish Fondations. Even as I type work is being carried out on the old stock exchange opposite Les Halles for M Pinault’s Fondation. The Galleries Lafayette ruling family have recently opened the Lafayette Anticipations in Le Marais. We’re slowly working our way around them all. Last week-end we hopped on the Metro and the Fondation’s own bus service, to visit Bernard Arnault’s Fondation Louis Vuitton, designed by Frank Gehry, which opened in 2014.
I dream. I dream of designing a magnificent vessel for Paris that symbolises France’s profound cultural vocation.
Gehry, winner of the prestigious Pritzker Prize in 1989, achieved his dream thanks to the generosity of another of France’s billionaires. Like so many great buildings, this one started with a few squiggles, a bit like sails in the wind.
The Fondation is set in a truly lovely location, in the Bois de Bologne, near the historic royal route to the west of Paris. The building has terraces of different heights affording stunning views over the trees in the park, some even offer a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower.
The building is made from a simple palette of materials and colours, from the Burgundy limestone pave outside to the wooden screens in Le Frank restaurant. But its the glass which dominates and catches the eye with its geometric curves and lines. Its twelve sails play with the light and reflections from the basin of water in which the building sits.
I’ll be honest, I absolutely loved the building and it is reminiscent of a ship particularly on the staircase landings with their exposed steel structural walls which look like the hull of a ship. The spaces inside are extraordinary, all different shapes and sizes and often in unexpected places.
There are various commissions both inside and outside of the building. In the Auditorium is a work called Spectrum. Alongside the walkway in the Grotto are 43 prism shaped columns of varying width encouraging visitors to activate a continuous interplay of reflections. The water tank on the West Terrace is in fact a small planet that has landed on the terrace! Overlooking the restaurant, the Fish Lamps evoke both the marine world and the idea of movement.
Easily missed, this spot is reserved for very contemporary work by young artists. This is Lips and Ears (2017) a monumental sculpture of two heads in a boat.
As we wandered around I was intrigued to see guides discussing the exhibits with bunches of young children in a very fun and interactive way. Particularly in the Takashi Murakami exhibits with its colourful characters which no doubt provoke the kids’ imaginations. the Fondation also has an app (who doesn’t these days) which allows kids to look at the building interactively.
The main exhibition included the works by the Japanese artist mentioned and shown above but the rest of the spaces were given over to exploring man’s position within the universe and his relationship with other living things. And, just in case you were wondering, that’s not a real dead horse swinging from the ceiling! How do I know? I asked!