Inside Paris’s Fancy New Fondation Louis Vuitton

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Frank Gehry has all but invaded Paris this month, with two new projects bearing his name: the inauguration of the long-awaited Fondation Louis Vuitton, an immense modern-art space in the historic parkland of the Bois de Boulogne, and a retrospective of his life's work at the Centre Pompidou

The latter (which features many sketches and models that have never been exhibited before) was timed to the opening of the Fondation — LVMH honcho Bernard Arnault's passion project that has been decades in the making. (He first met with Gehry to discuss the project after a visit to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao in 2001.)

At Friday’s press conference, Gehry was clearly proud of his commission. “It’s no secret that I love France, I used to live here, and I like the wine,” he said with a chuckle, adding, “It’s been a big honor for me to do this building here for Mr. Arnault, who is a dedicated art patron.” Gehry’s only other building in France is the Cinémathèque de Paris, formerly the American Centre, built in 1994.  

The Fondation Louis Vuitton, which has 11 gallery spaces spread over multiple levels, will house much of the Fondation’s permanent collection (including many items from Arnault’s own personal art collection) as well as a revolving program of commissioned work. There’s also an auditorium on the lower level that will host a diverse music program — classical pianist Lang Lang and cult electro-group Kraftwerk are already on the bill. (Nicolas Ghesquière presented Louis Vuitton’s spring-summer 2015 collection in this room earlier in October.)

Each gallery and every turn caters to an entirely new experience — be it Olafur Eliasson’s works with light and mirrors in the "grotto" or Ellsworth Kelly’s permanent exhibition in the "chapel." In addition to the internal spaces, Gehry described his desire to design a building that was “forgiving" — one that would evolve over time. “I hope the building will have a life of its own,” he said.

He called his monument “ephemeral” and “cloudlike,” and explained that he worked with transparent materials that would change with the light and convey a sense of movement. The immense glass sails of the structure (or the "iceberg," as it has been called) make it look like a futuristic ship, floating high through the treetops of the Bois de Boulogne’s Jardin d’Acclimatation. The view from the top terrace looks over Paris, all the way to the skyscrapers of La Défense. Arnault says the Fondation will become a landmark for posterity: He plans to gift the museum to the city of Paris in 50 years.

Click through images to see pictures of the fashion crowd at the Fondation's opening-night party.

The Fondation Louis Vuitton opens to the public on the 27th of October. The Frank Gehry retrospective runs at the Centre Pompidou until January 26, 2015.

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