Love for Sail

Nicolas Trembley at the opening of the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris

Left: The Fondation Louis Vuitton. Right: LVMH owner Bernard Arnault. (Except where noted, all photos: Nicolas Trembley)

AFTER SIX YEARS of pharaonic construction, the long-awaited Fondation Louis Vuitton building, imagineered by Frank Gehry, emerged during FIAC week in Paris with a succession of openings that kept crazy-busy an army of PR and various other sergeants of protocol.

Visits to the site-under-construction began already years ago, and an initial press preview of the empty but finished building took place in early September. As Suzanne Pagé, the artistic director, explained, “This is the first chef d’oeuvre of the collection,” a collection that belongs to the foundation and to Bernard Arnault, owner of the luxury conglomerate LVMH and the richest man in France.

Info on the collection, as well as all images of the building, was kept totally under embargo until October. Press had to sign an agreement of nonproliferation while tourists took selfies in front of the architecture in the Jardin d’Acclimatation.

Left: Artist Cerith Wyn Evans. Right: Architect Frank Gehry.

Built at the border of the Bois de Boulogne, famous from Proust and for its busy transgender prostitution scene, the “sailing boat” or “iceberg” or “crystal palace,” as people have begun to call it, is a champion of superlatives: more steel than in the Eiffel Tower, dozens of innovation patents requiring aerospace technology, and the best view of Paris from the terraces. As Jean-Paul Claverie, adviser to the Fondation’s chairman, said, “When this building was imagined, we didn’t have the tools to construct it; we had to invent them. It is a new architectural reference for the twenty-first century.”

Monday was the big day: Under the high patronage of Monsieur François Hollande, Président de la République (meaning France), la crème de la crème of industry and politics and fashion and show business landed for a first, exclusive, super-VIP preview.

If I’m very good at recognizing friends like Sarah Morris, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Taryn Simon, Olafur Eliasson, or Cerith Wyn Evans—all showing newly commissioned works—I wasn’t sure to recognize the Aga Khan, Michelle Williams, or Mrs. Mori. But Alain Delon, Karl Lagerfeld, Anna Wintour, and Suzy Menkes—yes! It’s Paris fashion week, baby, as star DJ Michel Gaubert put it. They were all here like a brigade of house stylists (some accompanied by their actress muses, like Ricardo Tisci/Noomi Rapace, Raf Simons/Marion Cotillard). There was Nicolas Ghesquière, who organized his recent Louis Vuitton show a few weeks ago in the still-empty building, Phoebe Philo, J. W. Anderson, Kris Van Assche, etc., etc.

Left: MoMA director Glenn Lowry with Fabrice Hergott, director of the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Right: François Hollande.

In fact, with FIAC on, it was Paris art week, so all the principal directors of the world museums were also present, from Glenn Lowry (MoMA), Sir Nicholas Serota (Tate), and Richard Armstrong (Guggenheim) to the French Laurent Le Bon (Musée Picasso), Alain Seban (Pompidou), and Fabrice Hergott (Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris), as well as star artists like Koons and Boltanski.

You can imagine that having the right invitation for the right night (openings ran every day) became a survivor mission for some people not invited. It got so crazy that we saw on Instagram scratched invitations (for another day). Artists like Jérôme Bel or Claude Lévêque did the same on Facebook, advertising the hashtag #fuckyoulouisvuitton. But that was for other reasons, a sign of solidarity with a text, “Is Art Only a Luxury Product?,” published on mediapart.fr by Pierre Alféri (son of Jacques Derrida) and cosigned by a roster of philosophers like Giorgio Agamben, Georges Didi-Huberman, Marie José Mondzain, and Jean-Luc Nancy. (Maybe they didn’t know that Vuitton has a long history with contemporary art, beginning more than ten years ago with Murakami reinventing its logo and continuing through recent bags designed for the brand by Richard Prince, Yayoi Kusama, and Cindy Sherman.)

François Hollande in his speech didn’t criticize the abolition of transgression in contemporary art in favor of its absorption into the liberalist luxury industry, but he instead paid vibrant homage to Arnault as among the most important private mécènes in the arts. He was also very happy to announce that in fifty years the building will fall into the hands of the City of Paris. In a good mood, he even did jokes on fiscal matters in front of a crowd that was not very sympathetic to his cause. (Only 13 percent of the population trusts his program.) He expressed solidarity not with Isa Genzken’s wonderful rose (symbol of the socialist party), which was standing in the lobby, but with Paul McCarthy, who was slammed a few days before by a group (probably neo-Catholic activists) who deflated the giant anal plug he installed on the Place Vendôme in front of the Ritz. “France will always stand with artists, as I am with Paul McCarthy.”

Left: Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour. Right: Artist Christian Boltanski.

Gehry, in wonderful shape for his eighty-five years, apologized, in French, for not being able to speak French unless he drinks red wine. Continuing in English, he said his inspiration came from his memory of Proust and Château de Marly. He is the darling of the media these days, having just opened a big retrospective at the Centre Pompidou, in addition to the big room in the Fondation showing all the sketches for the building (he also recently designed windows for the Louis Vuitton shops worldwide) and a little bag that you can buy for three thousand euros in the bookshop. (There is, alas, no retail boutique in the Fondation.)

After the talk, we were all invited to go outside and see the twelve veils of glass lit by a stroboscope while soprano Natalie Dessay sang over Rachmaninoff’s “La Vocalise,” played by violoncellist Henri Demarquette (with a Stradivarius that is part of the LVMH collection), after which we were able to start our visit. The first accrochage is very minimal; the idea is to see the building. From Pierre Huyghe’s video shot in the Antarctic to the monumental Mann im Matsch sculpture by Thomas Schütte and the main room fueled by Richter paintings, there is a very contemplative feeling. “Art has to be an emotion,” Pagé told me herself, very moved. “But in the future we will show also expressionist themes and artists like Wolfgang Tillmans, Polke, or Ed Atkins, as well as historical works like Giacometti.”

Following the cocktail, dinner was held in the empty auditorium where a site-specific work by Ellsworth Kelly is installed. The artist couldn’t be present, but was following the event live at home on a video screen. I hope he was able to follow along with the menu too: velouté de potimarron aux truffes blanches, joue de veau de lait aux girolles, and Petit Cheval Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 2005 in magnum!

Left: Fondation Louis Vuitton artistic director Suzanne Pagé. Right: Natalie Dessay and Henri Demarquette perform. (Photo: Rindoff/Charriau/French Select/Getty Images)

Left: Designer Karl Lagerfeld. Right: Artist Adrián Villar Rojas.

Left: Writer Suzy Menkes. Right: Centre Pompidou director Bernard Blistène.

Left: Collector Pierre Berge and Anne Baldessari. Right: Fondation Beyeler director Samuel Keller.

Left: Hans Ulrich Obrist, Serpentine codirector of exhibitions, with dealer Almine Rech. Right: Artist Olafur Eliasson.

Left: Artist Bertrand Lavier. Right: Guggenheim chief curator Nancy Spector.

Left: Marisa Berenson. Right: Dealer Larry Gagosian.

Left: Art historian Milly Glimcher with dealer Arne Glimcher. Right: Bernadette Chirac.

Left: Mrs. Arnault and Minister of Culture Fleur Pèlerin. Right: LVMH counselor Jean-Paul Claverie.

Left: Interior designer Jacques Grange and Setsuko Klossowska de Rola. Right: Architect Peter Marino.

Left: Condé Nast CEO Jonathan Newhouse. Right: Fondation Louis Vuitton.