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We don’t wish to disappoint you: this newcomer to the Parisian arts scene doesn’t resemble a giant, patterned couture bag from the popular designer after which it’s named. Maybe you’d say it evokes an enormous, wind-battered sailboat, a flying fish or a collection of waves breaking at sea. However you choose to describe the Fondation Louis Vuitton– a recently opened museum in Paris that’s quickly become a hit with the public– it’s hard not to find it captivating.
The center is housed in a stunning building conceived by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry. Nestled amongst lush woodland in Paris’s Bois de Boulogne, the eye-catching building is constructed from an astounding 3,600 glass panels and 19,000 concrete counterparts.
Inside, 126,000 square feet of light-filled, airy space is dedicated to modern and contemporary art exhibits, as well as a fascinating, self-reflective look at the building itself. Keep reading to learn why it’s well worth a trek to the edge of western Paris, and how to best enjoy your visit.
A Privately-Funded Feat for Architecture & Modern Art
The ambitious project – commissioned in 2001 by French multinational luxury goods conglomerate LMVH – necessitated an architect like Gehry, who made a name for himself after creating the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
Initially projected to cost about $127 million, the Fondation ended up taking around $140 million to complete. Construction began in March 2008 and the center finally opened at the end of October 2014.
For many, it marked a trend in Paris toward the private financing of new museums and arts centers. While in the past, enormous spaces like the Centre Georges Pompidou were financed by the French government, in more recent years it’s been private benefactors and corporations that have footed the bill for such monumental newcomers.
Whether you find this trend reason for cheer or consternation, it’s an interesting one to note.
The Collection in Detail
The Fondation comprises 11 galleries, all differing in size and hosting both semipermanent displays of commissioned contemporary artworks and temporary exhibits (see more on the latter below).
There’s also a 350-seat auditorium on the ground floor, an onsite restaurant, bookshop and gift shop.
Gallery #1, on the main level, is dedicated to Frank Gehry and his work on the Fondation. You’ll find dozens of building models in varying sizes and materials, plus sketches and explanations of how the structure was built.
Head down to the lowest level and admire the cascading fountain that flows from above into a tranquil pond that makes up Olafur Eliasson’s “Inside the Horizon.” Children and adults will find the dizzying panel of mirrors and mosaics addictive to look at and walk through.
The four multi-level terraces are also a treat to explore, each offering a new and spectacular view of the wooded area beyond. The central terrace is no doubt the most impressive, with the skyline of business park La Defense hovering over the Korean temple and expanses of trees in the park below.
As you wander up the various staircases, you may happen upon an eclectic piece of artwork, a view of the Eiffel Tower or an up-close look at the steel beams holding the whole thing together.
With each twist and turn, you’ll catch the building at an ever-new angle. As one visitor told me, “the building is so complex that most likely no one’s pictures will be the same.”
The Design: The Hand of an Architectural Legend
What makes the Fondation so innovative is the fact that the building itself is arguably even more intriguing than what’s inside.
Partly inspired by the 19th-century, glass-roofed masterpieces that still grace Paris– from the Grand Palais to the rooftop of the Galeries Lafayette department store– the design nods strongly toward organic forms and shapes, while also being boldly futuristic.
Gehry drew up elaborate 2-D and digital 3-D models for the compelling structure of the facade, which is often referred to as “the iceberg” and is composed of a stunning, complex assembly of glass panels overlaid on reinforced concrete.
Despite the incredible number of panels required to forge the structure, it seems ethereal and light, as if it might get caught in the wind and sail through the sky, drifting off from its foundations.
This is part of Gehry’s incredible feat: to create an impression of effortless, organic flexibility and mobility from industrial materials.
And while the inaugural collection was inspiring, a great deal of it played off the building instead of simply being housed by it.
For instance, Cerith Wyn Evan’s piece A=F=L=O=A=T displays a transparent box suspended from the ceiling, with twenty spidery glass flutes extending out at different levels.
The flutes let off different breathy notes according to where you are in the building, influenced by structural and architectural elements around you.
In Gallery #8, Oliver Beer transformed the existing space into a live instrument, where three singers stand at each angle of the room to encompass it in musical vibrations.
Temporary Exhibits at the Fondation Louis Vuitton
In addition to its permanent displays, the Fondation stages large-scale exhibitions on contemporary art, architecture, photography, design and other topics. These change every few months.
Past exhibits and retrospectives have shed interesting new light on the works of artists and creators such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, designer Charlotte Perriand, contemporary multimedia artist Yayoi Kusama and Viennese painter Egon Schiele.
To see complete details on what’s on now or upcoming at the Fondation Vuitton, see this page at the official website.
Making the Most of Your Visit: Our Tips
So, is the Fondation Louis Vuitton all a bunch of hype, or is it worth the trek from Les Sablons metro through the Bois de Boulogne? Should you risk getting sardined up with fellow Fondation-goers in the one-euro shuttle that takes you from the Les Sablons metro stop directly to the site?
- If you only have one hour to spare, the answer is no. You’ll need to set aside at least three to four hours for this excursion, and if you try to go on the weekends, prepare to battle the crowds.
- Long lines snaking around the block aren’t uncommon at the Fondation, especially following the open of one of its blockbuster temporary shows and on weekends.
- If you want to visit, we highly recommend booking ahead. You can reserve tickets and transport to the Fondation here (via Tiqets.com). You can even book a package there that includes round-trip shuttle service to the Fondation, plus skip-the-line access.
Once inside, however, you’ll notice the presence of something infinitely more unique than what you’d find at almost any other museum in Paris. Because the artwork shows off the building and not the other way around, you begin to feel as if you’re part of the space yourself.
The enormous, airy rooms and gratuitously high ceilings give you the impression of being a tiny speck in an infinite universe.
To top it off, the staff is genuinely nice and very knowledgeable about the nuts and bolts of the building. And in Paris, that’s worth millions.
Getting There, Opening Hours & Contact Details
Before your visit, make sure to note the Fondation’s opening day and hours and plan whether you’ll walk from the Metro or use the paid shuttle service (see below).
- Address: 8, Avenue du Mahatma Gandhi, Bois de Boulogne, 16th arrondissement (75016)
- Tel: +33 (0)1 40 69 96 00
- Email: [email protected]
- Visit the official website (in English)
- Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays – 11 am to 8 pm
- Friday late-night opening – 11 am to 9 pm (open until 11 pm for late-night events)
- Saturdays and Sundays – 10 am to 8 pm
- Closed on Tuesdays
How to Get There?
By Metro: Take line 1 to the Les Sablons. Take the Fondation Louis Vuitton exit. The Fondation is a 10-15 minute walk from the metro station through the Bois de Boulogne.
On the weekends, you can also take bus line 244 to the Fondation Louis Vuitton stop. The line does not run from Monday to Friday, however.
Via the Fondation shuttle: Departs Place Charles de Gaulle, on the corner of Avenue de Friedland, near the Les Sablons metro exit. The shuttle runs every 15 minutes and costs 1 euro. Please note that the shuttle is strictly reserved for valid ticket-holders; you will not be able to board unless you have booked an entry ticket in advance.
Accessibility: The Fondation is entirely accessible to visitors with limited mobility, sight and hearing impairments and other disabilities. Entry is free to the FLV for disabled visitors and one accompanying person. Please see this page for information and contact details ahead of your visit.
How to Book Tickets?
You can book tickets (including skip-the line versions) in advance here (via Tiqets.com). You may also do so at the official website (see above).
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