Louis Vuitton Foundation.
My son lamented "Mom, why do we have to go see a place with ugly LV bags and couture clothes?"
"Son", I replied, "the Fondation Louis Vuitton is an art museum."
Located just at the Paris/Neuilly city limits in a marvelous childrens' garden, the newly erected building is the latest fashionable destination to go to on weekends for busy Parisians.
"Have you seen the building? OMG, it's amazing!"
Ok, I have to admit, the structure is pure Frank Gehry, the master of grandiose projects. You visualize immediately the Lisbon Guggenheim, the Disney concert hall, and the Weatherhead School in Cleveland, mixed with a bit of the Sydney opera house. The effect is of waving petals, soaring leaves and transparency.
The day we visited last week was gray and dull and misty and cold, and the museum was barely visible until you actually walked up to it. The sky color was just about the same as the clear walls of the roofs. At the corner of a 10-minute walk from the closest métro station, the arrival upon the building is quite surprising. It fills up your view like a ship soaring out of the sky - a space ship?
The very long double line to enter was somewhat explained when we found out that the museum was only opening at noon (midi) on that particular Friday, and a lot of visitors arrived at the reasonable hour of 11 o'clock, assuming it would be open, silly them. We were lucky late comers.
Not Much to See.
I must say that what we saw was classy, but not earth-shattering. The surprise came to discover so very few things to see. The building is finished and ready, the staff is uniformed and trained, but a lot of rooms and galleries are still closed and empty, with no indication of when something will arrive there. A violin recital rehearsal was taking place in the auditorium. The Modigliani sculpures were the nicest things I saw that day.
The only video auditorium open was showing the Steve McQueen clip of Kanye West, which both my son and I do not care for. We did not sit. The truly interesting feature of the Fondation is its outside terraces, multiple and at various levels. Facing every possible directions, the views from there are some of the best in the city, after the ones from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
One remarkable sight from an outside floor is the business area of Paris, La Défense, with the only skyscrapers to be seen in the capital. The distance allows you to see the entire panoramic spread of the hundreds of tall structures encompassing the view, located at the very end of the corridor joining the Concorde plaza to the Grande Arche building, via the Arc de Triomphe monument and the Champs-Elysées avenue.
Our visit was over in about an hour, and that was quicker than staying in line outside. The restaurant in the lobby has an amazing display of giant white origami fish hovering above diners - another subtle reference to the work of the architect who loves using giant fish, as in the sculpture he created in Spain.
The 12 veils of glass forming the structure reflect in several adjoining ponds, even with no sunshine. But the water areas are unlikely to stay clean very long - for now they are bleach-perfect. A few lonely wishing coins will probably soon be buried in more.
The soft arches and semi-transparent features of the building are again a testament of the genius of architect Frank Gehry, although my son pointed out that it already looked very familiar - the truth comes out of the mouth of children, does it not?
The Surrounding Garden.
The Jardin d'Acclimatation where the Fondation is located is where Parisians children grow up when the sun peeks for a few minutes. The place offers all sorts of fun things to do, to eat, to watch, to pet, to touch, and to admire. Children's oh-s and ah-s fill the air and draw smiles when the weather is cooperating, which it was not last week. The garden was quite empty, with the temperature in the mid 40s.
The kiddies garden has a petting zoo, a massive aviary, a tchoo-tchoo train, rides and canoeing on the little lake, a small farm, a riding school, a vegetable garden, a fitness area, and a "beach" with lounging chairs. Everything in a child's dreamworld is presented here. Gloomy weather condition is not a good time to visit though. The price of admission is included if you have visited the Fondation and exits via the garden side.
The garden and its new museum are located in the Bois de Boulogne, at the Paris/Neuilly border -the posh suburb of Neuilly; technically, the Jardin d'Acclimatation and the Fondation should be located in Neuilly, as they are on the outside of the Périphérique, the official automobile loop that runs around Paris and defines its territory. But the Parisians must have wanted that park to be theirs. The subway stop for the museum is in fact located on the Neuilly side.
Why Louis Vuitton?
Commandeered by billionaire Bernard Arnault, the chairman of LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, the merger of Champagne and couture). Arnault is an art collector, in particular of Picasso, Klein, and Warhol. The project of the Fondation started in 2006 and it was immediately logical that the place would bear the name Louis Vuitton.
Just like the American Airlines Arena in Miami does not have any planes inside, or the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, that also does not show any cars in it, the Louis Vuitton Fondation has no bags inside. As a recap, the new museum is a welcome addition to the long list of art places in Paris, but the outside is much more spectacular than the inside, which is the case for many of Frank Gerhy's masterpieces.
Now, if you plan to go, make sure to visit the website and follow the instructions. It's almost like a hunting game where they give you clues on how to find the place and how to arrive to it. The hours are also indicated there, albeit not very clearly at all. So, here is a little help, from me to you.
Address: Avenue du Mahatma Gandhi, 75016 Paris; Tel 33-1-4069-9600.
Opening hours (read carefully): 11-8 Mon + Wed + Thur; 11-11 Fridays; 10-8 Sat + Sun. These hours vary during school holidays, and for some bank holidays - such as May 1st (Labor Day in France), when the museum will be closed - better check ahead of your visit.
Métro: Line 1 - stop Les Sablons. There is also a private $1 shuttle departing from the Métro stop Etoile, for those who don't want to walk the walk.
The Fondation is closed on Tuesdays.
Entry fee: 5 to 14 Euros depending on your age (or $5.29 to $14.82); the Dollar is almost at the Euro level nowadays. Free for disabled visitors and one accompanying person.
(To be totally fair, the museum does show a couple of original travel luggage in the lobby.)
Next, we visit the Père Lachaise cemetery and I have some surprising insiders' info for you!