Paris Envy: Frank Gehry’s Vuitton Foundation


Joseph Giovannini in the LA Review of Books (image The Fondation Louis Vuitton © Iwan Baan):

IN TODAY’S EFFICIENT, RATIONALIST, COST-CONSCIOUS architecture culture, squishy, unquantifiable qualities like enchantment are off the drafting table — exiled, beyond the grid, outside the design equation. But in museum design, ineffable qualities that mystify a museum are probably the single most important factor in signaling that the building brackets an out-of-the-ordinary precinct, one that promises special objects and a special experience inside. Architecture as warm visual bath introduces visitors into an immersive experience that preconditions the way they will see the Kiefers and the Pollocks beyond. Enchantment at the front door heightens anticipation. It opens pores.

There is, of course, the Calvinist alternative: museums as Minimalist white warehouses that offer a more blunt, frontal encounter with works of art that stand alone in cool, uninflected Newtonian space. But Frank Gehry, whose Louis Vuitton Foundation museum and cultural center just opened last month, subscribes instead to what might be called architectural Catholicism. Historically, the architects of cathedrals have always used the powers of a subjective and sometimes sumptuous architecture to condition worshippers to the messages delivered inside. By the time they kneel in a pew, the environment has already persuaded them through their awakened senses to believe.

Even by Gehry’s elevated standards, no contemporary museum anywhere is more enchanting than the Louis Vuitton Foundation, inaugurated two weeks after the opening of a major retrospective of his work at the Pompidou Center. Equipped with as many glass sails as a three-master, all billowing cubistically in contradictory directions, the building lists to starboard while leaning fore, its prow sailing over a stepped cascade of lapping water. The museum seems to glide within the surrounding canopy of trees in the park, its upper sails piercing the tree line.

You are not on LSD. All sail and no boat, it’s a vision, one that provoked a perfectly sober, gainfully employed psychologist seeing the building for the first time to respond: “I nearly wept in awe. Amazed by how soft, alive and enfolding it is.”

More here.