Visitors to the LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) offices on Avenue Montaigne in the eighth arrondissement of Paris are greeted by two imposing sculptures by Takashi Murakami flanking the stately doors. A long and sloping staircase follows with steps rising towards a verdant interior courtyard, naturally showing the way to the office of LVMH’s president, Bernard Arnault.
Aside from being a talented French businessman, Bernard Arnault is a world-renowned art enthusiast. The sponsor of numerous exhibitions, he is also an avid collector and will begin displaying in 2011 a portion of his vast collection through his foundation, the Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation. There is no doubt that this top French businessman, who will celebrate his 60th birthday next March, is the leader of luxury. But, rather than dwell on his current surroundings, he would rather talk about another building that will “be noticed in architecture and in the architectural landscape of Paris.” Arnault is alluding to the future home of his foundation, whose building, designed by Frank Gehry, will take root in 2011 at the jardin d’Acclimatation on the outskirts of the Bois de Boulogne in the 16th arrondissement of Paris.
For Arnault, the monument built by the American architect Gehry will be a first in glass construction and will become as famous as the Eiffel Tower was in its time for its steel construction. “Frank Gehry is one of the greatest architects in the world,” says Arnault. “His buildings are full of force and impressive novelty. The 4300 square meters will be open to the greater environment, light like a cloud of glass, and will not be a wound of development but a harmonious compliment. Visitors could come just to see the building.”
It is, of course, foreseeable that people will also come to see the collection’s exhibitions, whose themes will be chosen by the foundation’s artistic director, Suzanne Pagé, former director of the Paris Museum of Modern Art. They will be organized to include work from Bernard Arnault’s vast collections of 20th and 21st century art. “To know the artists who will be represented, one need only look at the exhibits that LVMH has sponsored over the years,” explains Arnault.
The permanent collection and the temporary exhibitions will not be limited to Bernard’s personal holdings, however. Rather, they will be produced with the participation of other contemporary creative institutions. “The foundation will be open to all talents—French artists and also foreign artists—and will cultivate both originality and marked identity,” says Arnault. One of the foundation’s main goals is to make culture (French culture in particular) radiant forces in the world by creating totally new and inventive exhibitions, in the same vein as previous LVMH-sponsored events.
For Arnault, art is more than something that is hung on the walls of galleries and museums; it is something that can be worn. This vision of art is most readily displayed on the products of LVMH’s historic brand, Louis Vuitton. Ever since the arrival of the designer Marc Jacobs in 1997, the brand has been searching out ways to be at the forefront of modernity.
For the past several years, this union has become a point of commercial strategy—although Arnault remains dedicated to keeping sacred the role of the artist. “The most important thing is the artist’s approach,” he says. “We only work with living artists so that we can create a dialogue.”