Having run late for our set-time appointment at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris, we took a taxi and entered through a security checkpoint cubical so that Frank Gehry’s spectacular building, made up of 12 huge curving sails of glass, revealed itself to us slowly from the museum’s interior, an experience I would expect few people have. As we moved through the space, the building unfolded from the inside to the outside with increasing urgency, yielding to soaring views of its own structure and eventually giving way to a multi-level series of outdoor terraces with views of the surrounding park, the Bois de Boulogne, and Paris beyond. The fabulously complex, intricately designed structure of curving glass panels, wooden breams, and metal trusses and bolts seemed to set itself in competition with the Eiffel Tower, an engineering marvel of yesteryear, dwarfed in the distance.
The museum building, which opened to the public in October 2014, was commissioned from Gehry by Bernard Arnault, Chairman and CEO of the LVMH luxury goods conglomerate to display the corporate collections. On view during my visit (through August 27, 2018) is the exhibition Au diaposon dun monde or In Tune with the World: The Collection-New Selection. It consists of major works by a greatest hits of international contemporary artists, many of them French (Christian Boltanski, Cyprien Gaillard, Pierre Huyghe, Yves Klein, Francois Morellet, and others). The overall concept is terrifically broad–the place of humans in the universe–although individual galleries are installed thematically and featured sensitive and often telling juxtapositions. Among my favorites is the pairing of a typically multi-layered, multi-directional Gerhard Richter abstract painting with Trisha Donnelly’s Untitled (2014), a black-and-white video that features slow-moving clouds superimposed upon indeterminate fluid patterns. Wall labels in both French and English provide clear, concise information on each piece on display.
While humanity is the exhibition’s point of focus, several works featuring animals are particularly notable. One is Japanese artist Shimabuki’s The Snow Monkeys of Texas: Do snow monkeys remember snow mountains? (2016), comprising a video, a few cacti, and a text. The installation documents an experiment the artist carried out on a community of Japanese snow monkeys that had been displaced to Texas decades earlier. He provided them with a mound of crushed ice to test their memories/reactions. Whether the fact that the monkeys sat on and ate the ice represented vestigial behavior, Shimabuki’s questioning of their adaptation was intriguing and moving. More haunting still was Pierre Huyghe’s film Untitled (Human Mask), 2014, in which a monkey roams around an empty, purportedly post-Apocalyptic Japanese interior wearing the impassive, white Noh theatre mask of a young girl. The viewer’s heart races and goes over to the monkey’s/girl’s plight. The most painfully poignant of the works in this vein, however, is Maurizio Cattelan’s Le balleta di Trotski (1996), the suspended, stuffed horse being ever disturbing and startling.
Installed in a gallery geared to appropriation, Adrian Villar Rojas’ From the series The Theatre of Disappearance (2017) features the legs of Michelangelo’s David carved by a machine using marble from the same quarry as the original. Two 3D printed kittens made of Nylon 12 PA (a manufactured polymer) frolic between the David‘s legs in a collision between ancient and modern materials as well as between high art and popular culture. Not Internet cat videos, but Felix the Cat makes an appearance in a monumental blow-up sculpture of 2013 by Mark Leckey. The cartoon cat is installed in the midst of a permanent, interactive installation by Olafur Eliasson in the Foundation’s “grotto,” a subterranean area with a reflecting pool. Entitled Inside the Horizon (2014), Eliasson’s piece consists of 43 internally illuminated triangular columns, two sides of which are mirrored, while the third is covered with yellow glass. Experientially rich, providing ever-changing views, it is a self-reflective (and selfie) paradise.
Exiting the Louis Vuitton Foundation along the axis provided by Elaisson’s “yellow glass road,” the visitor arrives at a stunning view of the exterior of Gehry’s museum. Perched high above a pool of downward cascading waters, the building appears to rise up, suggesting a great ship that beckons onlookers to embark on a journey. There is much to see and do when visiting Paris, but succumbing to this invitation is well advised.