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‘Glass ship’ Vuitton museum opens in Paris

Emerging from the woods at the edge of Paris like a glass ship, the hyper-modern Louis Vuitton art museum will be inaugurated on Monday, kicking off an art-filled week in the French capital.

'Glass ship' Vuitton museum opens in Paris
The Louis Vuitton art museum, which takes the form of a sailboat amongst the trees of the Bois de Boulogne, consists of twelve huge sails in glass. Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP

Emerging from the woods at the edge of Paris like a glass ship, the hyper-modern Louis Vuitton art museum was inaugurated on Monday, kicking off an art-filled week in the French capital.

French President Francois Hollande hailed architect Frank Gehry's "fabulous idea" of the futuristic building at a glitzy inauguration also expected to be attended by Prince Albert of Monaco, US fashion matriarch Anna Wintour and Chanel's artistic director Karl Lagerfeld.

A transparent cloud of 12 glass sails billows around the museum's main building – referred to by the architect as "the iceberg" – which sits above a sunken lake on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne park.

The official unveiling of the Louis Vuitton Foundation sets off a busy art week in Paris which will be capped by the reopening of the Picasso museum after an extensive five-year renovation.

The flurry of cultural activity has been hailed by the city as proof that Paris still has an edge among the world's art capitals.

However the week began with controversy after a sculpture erected on the ritzy Place Vendome was vandalised this weekend amid outrage – and mirth – over its resemblance to a sex toy.

Hollande weighed in on the incident, saying he sided with American artist Paul McCarthy, 69, who ultimately decided not to reinstall the giant inflatable sculpture called "The Tree"

"France always sides with artists, as do I with Paul McCarthy whose work was sullied," said the president.

"Paris has been and will always be an old lady. But she is a magnificent old dame, sparkling, insolent, even audacious, whose history is intimately linked to art," wrote an editorialist in the Parisian daily newspaper.

"And the beautiful lady is not afraid to be scandalous… she still knows how to seduce," the article said, referring to the outrage over McCarthy's work, and the art-rich week ahead.

'Cultural calling of France'

A decade in the making, the impressive Louis Vuitton Foundation museum will be inaugurated a week before its official opening to the public.

The private contemporary art museum was financed by Bernard Arnault, who heads up the LVMH luxury goods empire and whose net worth is estimated at almost $30 billion (23 billion euros) by Forbes.

The foundation was designed by 85-year-old architect Frank Gehry who wanted to "design, in Paris, a magnificent vessel symbolizing the cultural calling of France".

"It is a very unusual building. I have never designed anything exactly like it," Gehry said on the foundation's website, which describes it as "an iconic building for the 21st century".

A transparent cloud of 12 glass sails billows around the main building, referred to by the architect as "the iceberg", which sits above a sunken lake on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne park.

The architect says he was inspired by the lightness of late 19th-century glass and garden architecture.

"It is a very unusual building. I have never designed anything exactly like it," Gehry said on the foundation's website, which describes it as "an iconic building for the 21st century".

Gehry is best known for designing the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles and the Guggenheim Museum building in Bilbao, Spain.

The Paris building was highly controversial and parliament had to pass a special law allowing for it to be built after local groups wanting to preserve the park's character won a court battle that blocked construction.

Finally, Picasso

Aside from the foundation's glitzy inauguration by President Francois Hollande, the FIAC contemporary art fair also gets under way on Thursday, with 26 countries displaying art in 191 galleries at the Grand Palais museum.

And to cap off the week, the Picasso Museum, which houses one of the world's most extensive collections of the Spanish master's work, reopens on Saturday after five years of renovation engulfed in controversy.

The museum's president Anne Baldessari was sacked mid-renovation after a public spat with staff, a move which angered the painter's son Claude Picasso who said he was "scandalised and very worried" about the future of the museum.

The price tag for the refurbishment of the 17th-century baroque mansion in Paris's historic Marais quarter also shot up amid the delays.

The final bill now stands at 52 million euros, 22 million euros higher than the original budget, due to changes in the scope of the work.

Putting the squabbles in the past, the museum is now ready to unveil around 5,000 paintings, drawings, sculptures, ceramics, photographs and documents.

Previously only a fraction of these could be displayed at any one time, but the museum's exhibition space was more than doubled to 3,800 square metres (41,000 square feet) during the renovation.

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ARCHITECTURE

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles

Rising high beyond an ancient Roman arena in Arles, a tall, twisted tower created by Frank Gehry shimmers in the sun, the latest futuristic addition to this southern French city known for its World Heritage sites.

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles
Gehry's Luma Tower opens in Arles, France. Photo: H I / Pixabay

The tower, which opens to the public on Saturday, is the flagship attraction of a new “creative campus” conceived by the Swiss Luma arts foundation that wants to offer artists a space to create, collaborate and showcase their work.

Gehry, the 92-year-old brain behind Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum and Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, wrapped 11,000 stainless steel panels around his tower above a huge glass round base.

It will house contemporary art exhibitions, a library, and offices, while the Luma Arles campus as a whole will host conferences and live performances.

From a distance, the structure reflects the changing lights of this town that inspired Van Gogh, capturing the whiteness of the limestone Alpilles mountain range nearby which glows a fierce orange when the sun sets.

Mustapha Bouhayati, the head of Luma Arles, says the town is no stranger to
imposing monuments; its ancient Roman arena and theatre have long drawn the
crowds.

The tower is just the latest addition, he says. “We’re building the heritage of tomorrow.”

Luma Arles spreads out over a huge former industrial wasteland.

Maja Hoffmann, a Swiss patron of the arts who created the foundation, says
the site took seven years to build and many more years to conceive.

Maja Hoffmann, founder and president of the Luma Foundation. Photo: Pascal GUYOT / AFP

Aside from the tower, Luma Arles also has exhibition and performance spaces in former industrial buildings, a phosphorescent skatepark created by South Korean artist Koo Jeong A and a sprawling public park conceived by Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets.

‘Arles chose me’

The wealthy great-granddaughter of a founder of Swiss drug giant Roche, Hoffmann has for years been involved in the world of contemporary art, like her grandmother before her.

A documentary producer and arts collector, she owns photos by Annie Leibovitz and Diane Arbus and says she hung out with Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York.

Her foundation’s stated aim is to promote artists and their work, with a special interest in environmental issues, human rights, education and culture.

She refuses to answer a question on how much the project in Arles cost. But as to why she chose the 53,000-strong town, Hoffmann responds: “I did not choose Arles, Arles chose me.”

She moved there as a baby when her father Luc Hoffmann, who co-founded WWF,
created a reserve to preserve the biodiversity of the Camargue, a region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone river delta known for its pink flamingos.

The tower reflects that, with Camargue salt used as mural panels and the
delta’s algae as textile dye.

Hoffmann says she wants her project to attract more visitors in the winter, in a town where nearly a quarter of the population lives under the poverty line.

Some 190 people will be working at the Luma project over the summer, Bouhayati says, adding that Hoffman has created an “ecosystem for creation”.

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