It is part of my family lore how one evening in Paris years ago, while being driven to a dinner at a restaurant in Paris’ Bois de Boulogne (Boulogne Wood), our car stopped at a streetlight –or should I say, Red Light? – and as my dad looked out the window, fixing his gaze on this beautiful African prostitute wearing a trench coat waiting for customers, told his two children, my brother and me, as a matter of fact-ly and with regret, that he had never been with a black woman. This declaration while surprising brought even more amazement when the working woman from whom my dad still couldn’t take his eyes off of, untied the belt of her trench coat and flashed her completely naked body to us all. To this day we talk about this event as a fun memory.
This October 2015, it was after our Eurostar trip from London to Paris and checking in to our hotel that my husband Dani asked to take a short nap. We made an agreement after our last Frieze New York trip back in May 2015, as it became plain obvious that he can’t keep up with my crazy schedule of walking, and visiting art exhibitions and museums when we ended up at the hospital with his back out, that he would join me on trips only if he would be allowed to take frequent rests.
After an hour, I kept asking, trying to make him get up, saying that we have to go to "Fondation Louis Vuitton". But he made no moves at all and seemed still asleep. I kept coming by his bed and asking but to no avail. I don’t know what he thought, that perhaps I wanted to take him to shopping or something, but eventually when I said that we have to go to Bois de Boulogne, as a result of having heard the story of our ride years ago in Bois de Boulogne, he jumped and said “ Ok, let’s go!” And we did... To all of our disappointment, we saw no pedestrians on our way to the museum.
The Fondation Louis Vuitton is not a big museum, and the architecture is what strikes you the most. Designed by Frank Gehry, it did remind me of Guggenheim Bilbao, not only because it too was designed by him, or because the Guggenheim Bilbao was the starting point of the prominence of Architecture of museums becoming important (I would say in fact it was the Centre Pompidou that started the trend), but also because there is a sense of separation of boundaries from the location of the museum than its surroundings. While an architectural feat --the slanted glasses are indeed impressive-- it did remind me of Gehry’s fish, Peix d'Or in the Arts Hotel in Barcelona, under which I once met for afternoon drinks with Dani as I was trying to turn him into something more than just a friend.
Let me tell you, outside is impressive, but inside is extremely appealing too. Everything is designed to display art in the most advanced way. For example, the lighting:
Almost all works hung on walls have shelves on the floor level, which not only serve as barriers to prevent people from getting too close to the works, but also under which the air conditioning vents are located. A fantastic way for air to flow from: It comes from the floor rather than from the ceiling and is therefore more energy-efficient, and it blows in the most indirect way as it should be for any location that art is displayed safely.
Notice the shelves under which air vents are located.
I have to say the exhibitions on that day were not that exhilarating to me. Dani concurred to say that many private collections he'd seen had more challenging, interesting and impressive works. I’d say it’s a safe collection, and very nice.
I pay special attention to security personnel and the rest of the staff in a museum having volunteered and interned in museums. They also generally tend to have a lot of information about the exhibited works too. The guards were the nicest people ever, welcoming, and willing to go out of their way to help.
The café under Gehry’s fish lamp was very nice before closing to have drinks as we waited for our Uber drive.
Frank Gehry. Fish Lamp, 2014.
I hope the Fondation Louis Vuitton changes the neighborhood and makes it more visited. And that the Bois de Boulogne becomes a neighborhood where there would be more people walking and running alone and together with company. Perhaps this becomes the part of the phenomenon too, that a construction and establishment of a museum changes the city and that the building becomes a focal point of a neighborhood.
Picasso Museum, Paris
The renovated Picasso Museum was spacious, airy and well organized. Divided into sections and periods, which is quite expected of course from a museum that houses the collection of a singular artist, I thought the section about the political was the most interesting since Picasso’s great masterpiece Guernica is a political one. (In the collection of the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, Spain, a definite must-see, it shows the atrocities encountered in the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War).
Here in the Picasso Museum in Paris another work in this vein was one about the Korean War. Many contemporary artists have been influenced by Guernica; much like Picasso himself has been influenced by masterpieces before him. Such is the power of art: It inspires you.
I thought the best section was the collection of works of Dejeuner sur l’herbe after Manet. Artists are inspired by masterpieces and they study, interpret and appropriate them. Picasso has done this for Eugène Delacroix’s Femme d’Alger and Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas. Edouard Manet’s famous work Dejeuner sur l’herbe is important in that it includes bathers in a pastoral and Picasso has dealt with the painting in many works that were on display. I felt this section would be most appealing to young artists.
Pompidou.. Ah Centre Pompidou. It so reminds me of my younger days! The rebel in me who owes almost everything she materially owns to cement and concrete –family business- loved the building built back in 1977 in the then-bad neighborhood of Marais designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers with its guts outside, steel and glass --with no visible concrete! Taking my son Joe who had never seen it before with me, on his birthday, I not only went to see the Wifredo Lam retrospective, but also the permanent collection.
I liked it that it was not crazy crowded on this day. The chronological placements of works in separate art-movements in time were easy to move from one section to another because of the design (you did not get lost, or say “where am I?”) Although I kept thinking they must need money for a better collection. Perhaps here is the place to say that state-funded European public museums badly need the American model of private funding for better collection building. At least for keeping current.
Inside, direct lighting on works was avoided:
With Vassily Kandinsky’s mit dem Schwarzen Bogen, 1912 in the background, notice how lights hit from the squares in the walls in an upward angle to be reflected from the sloped ceiling. This way precious works are not damaged from direct light.
You might wonder, did I go to the Louvre? No, I didn’t. The last time I went to the Louvre was sometime in the early 90s for a dinner invitation with my dad.. I guess this is one of the problems that encyclopedic museums face now: That they are not exactly current, and boy, are they crowded with tourists. (Oh, and anybody who says they do not like the pyramid at the entrance of the Louvre, mind you without it there would be much less visitors if not for the fact that many people go to see it too! Of course there are those who go for the Mona Lisa too).
The importance of being current is thought to be of importance strictly for Gen-X and Millennial populations but perhaps that is not exactly so. On a telephone call from Paris, I had this conversation with my dad about whether I took Joe to the Louvre, and I reminded him how he responded my question of: “Would you go to the Louvre?” the year before. To which he replied with the same answer, a little defensively: “Do you know how many times I have been to the Louvre? Nothing changes there! And it is too big and too crowded! And it is tiring!” Crowds and design elements affect all age groups.
In conclusion, while architecture is powerfully important, and aesthetically appealing and interesting, and a great collection and exhibitions are what make a museum, they are not enough to make them successful per se. Programming, exhibition development, educational and social engagements become important in making a museum a community center in promotion of the arts. I see a fantastic opportunity here in Paris for the Fondation Louis Vuitton, not only in promoting the arts through programming but also in changing the outlook of Bois de Boulogne much like Pompidou once did.