Fondation Louis Vuitton, Monnaie de Paris, Musée Picasso

February 7, 2010By Heidi EllisonArchive

Arty Toys for Every
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Paris Update Fondation Louis Vuitton 5-Iwan-Baan

A detail of Frank Gehry’s spectacular building for the Fondation Louis Vuitton. Photo © Iwan Baan

Last week was the week of openings in Paris. While FIAC and its many fringe events hawked contemporary art, the Louis Vuitton Foundation opened its Frank Gehry-designed vanity showcase in the Bois de Boulogne, the Monnaie de Paris reopened after a three-year renovation with a show by controversial artist Paul McCarthy, and the Musée Picasso reopened after a five-year renovation. The latter two openings were touched by scandal, but more on that later.

Gehry’s “magnificent vessel,” as he described it, for the Fondation Louis Vuitton is spectacular. Covered in translucent-glass “sails,” it evokes not just a boat but also the architect’s obsession with fish (those sails also look rather like fish scales), inspired by a childhood memory of carp – brought home by his grandmother to make gefilte fish – swimming in the family bathtub.

This immense, fanciful building is a kind of hugely expensive toy only a multibillionaire like Bernard Arnault, CEO of LVMH, the

Paris Update Fondation Louis Vuitton

Another view of the Fondation Louis Vuitton.

world’s largest luxury group, could afford. While its structure and spaces can be dramatically beautiful – you feel as if you are wandering inside a giant’s sculpture – they can also be seen as showy flourishes.

Several people I have spoken with have found the gigantism and grandiosity of the place offensive. I understand what they mean and even sympathize, but I also like the idea of grand architectural gestures, and who else can afford them today (except China, but even its government recently called for an end to “weird” architecture)? Buildings like this are the monuments and cathedrals that governments and churches no longer build. And isn’t this one way of recycling the money rich people spend on Louis Vuitton bags? In that case, however, wouldn’t it be nice if admission were free instead of €14, higher than that charged by Paris’s public museums?

What’s inside the building? Art, although you will have to wander far to find it, getting lost in the immense building in the process. Some is in the basement, and some can be found in what Gehry calls “icebergs,” nearly independent faceted structures sticking up from the roof.

An interesting exhibition on the creation of the building itself presents models showing how the design evolved through various stages (the Centre Pompidou is also holding a show, sponsored by the Louis Vuitton Foundation, on Gehry’s architectural career).

Upstairs in other galleries are a mini-
retrospective of the work of Gerhard Richter, a handful of paintings by Ellsworth Kelly, a monumental sculpture by Thomas Schütte, a video installation by Christian Boltanski and various other pieces.

The main reason to trek out to the Bois de Boulogne, aside from seeing the building for yourself, is to see Olafur Eliasson’s “Inside the

Paris Update Fondation Louis Vuitton Olafur Eliasson

“Inside the Horizon” (2014), by Olafur Eliasson. Horizon,” a fabulous installation of glowing yellow panels and mirrors next to the reflecting pool and cascade on the lower level.

Monnaie de Paris

If you have been paying any attention at all to recent news about Paris, you have probably heard a lot about “butt plugs” in the past week. Quick summary: While American artist Paul McCarthy, provocateur extraordinaire, was


Paul McCarthy’s “Tree” in the Place Vendôme. Photo: Eric Tenin of Paris Daily Photo.

erecting a monumental sculpture called “Tree” in the ritzy Place Vendôme for the FIAC art fair, he was assaulted physically and verbally by a passerby. French right-wing groups immediately started tweeting about the offensive “butt plug” (causing one to wonder why they are so familiar with the world of arcane sex toys) and then the sculpture was vandalized in the night and finally taken away at the artist’s request.

In the meantime, the press opening of his exhibition at the Monnaie de Paris (the Paris Mint) was postponed so that he could install a new work reacting to the brouhaha.

The exhibition starts with a small forest of these equivocal gigantic inflatable sculptures in bright colors (make of them what you will:

Paris Update Chocolate Factory Paul McCarthy inflatables

The forest of inflatable sculptures in Paul McCarthy’s exhibition “Chocolate Factory,” at the Monnaie de Paris. © Marc Domage

trees, sex toys, chess pieces…), but the main event is a real chocolate factory staffed by workers wearing identical blond wigs and producing chocolate versions of the butt-plug sculpture and of a representation of Santa

Paris Update Chocolate Factory Paul McCarthy factory

The chocolate factory during working hours. © Marc DomageClaus holding yet another sex toy. These can be purchased in the gift shop for €50 each (those being sold are made in the factory of the

Paris Update Chocolate Factory Paul McCarthy santas

company supplying the chocolate; the figurines being made during the exhibition will be recycled).

The rest of the show consists of rooms filled with storage racks, which will gradually be stocked with chocolate sculptures as the show goes on, and a few empty beds. The air is redolent of chocolate, and the rooms echo with disturbing sound effects and McCarthy’s voice repeating over and over the words spoken

Paris Update Chocolate Factory Paul McCarthy video

to him by his aggressor on the Place Vendôme (“Are you the artist?,” “Stupid fucking American,” etc.), accompanied by videos of his hand writing the words over and over, as if trying to exorcise them. This is the work he created at the last minute.

What to make of all this? The curators claim that McCarthy is satirizing consumer culture with his provocative works, but one can’t help wondering if he isn’t really just the “shock jock” others accuse him of being. I don’t find his work particularly thought-provoking or interesting, although it is evocative, but I do defend his right to shock.

Musée Picasso

Pablo Picasso created a few shockwaves of his own in his day, but today it is not his work that has created a scandal, but the mishandling of the reopening of the Musée Picasso (read about it here). All’s well that ends well, except for the former director of the museum, Anne Baldassari, who is now out of a job but was temporarily brought back to hang the collection. Since its opening last weekend, the museum has received rave reviews on all counts. More on that in a future issue of Paris Update.

Heidi Ellison

Fondation Louis Vuitton: 8, avenue du Mahatma Gandhi, Bois de Boulogne, 75116 Paris. Métro: Les Sablons. Tel.: 01 40 69 96 00. Open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, noon-7pm; Friday, noon-11pm; Saturday-Sunday, 11am-8pm. Closed Tuesdays, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Admission: €14.

Monnaie de Paris: 11, quai de Conti, 75006 Paris. Métro: Pont Neuf. Tel.: 01 40 46 56 66. Open daily, 11am-7pm, until 10pm on Thursday. Admission: €8. Through January 4, 2015.

Musée Picasso: 5, rue de Thorigny, 75003 Paris. Métro: Saint-Paul. Tel.: 01 85 56 00 36. Open Tuesday-Friday, 11:30am-6pm; Saturday-Sunday, 9:30am-6pm (until 9pm the third Friday of every month). Closed Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and May 1.

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