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Paris show of masterpieces unseen in West proves a smash hit

A smash-hit Paris show of one the world's greatest private collections of modern art is to be extended after 600,000 people flocked to see it in just 10 weeks.

Paris show of masterpieces unseen in West proves a smash hit
Photo: AFP

“Icons of Modern Art” at the Louis Vuitton Foundation features the cream of the staggering collection of 250 paintings put together by Sergei Shchukin before the Bolshevik Revolution, which had never before been seen outside Russia.

The show includes 29 works by Picasso, 22 by Matisse, 12 by Gauguin and other top-notch Cezannes and Van Goghs that the super-rich textile merchant picked up on trips to Paris before World War I.

With 60,000 people a week flocking to the spectacular though relatively modest-sized private gallery designed by Frank Gehry, its hours are being extended to try to cope with the demand, with doors opening seven days a week until 11:00 pm (2200 GMT) in February.

In the final week of the extended run, which ends on March 5, the foundation in the west of the French capital will stay open till 1:00 am.

The gallery — paid for by the French luxury goods tycoon Bernard Arnault — will lay on a breakfast every morning for visitors in the final week when doors open at 7:00 am, it told AFP.



Magritte blockbuster

That could end up amounting to quite a mountain of croissants as the show's attendance is already outstripping the blockbuster “Magritte” exhibit at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, which is currently pulling in 6,000 people a day.

As well as the impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces, the exhibition also includes 30 major pieces from the Russian avant-garde suprematist and constructivist movements, loaned by the Tretyakov State Gallery in Moscow and the Russian Museum in St Petersburg.

Shchukin, who fled Russia for France after the revolution, had a particularly close relationship with Henri Matisse, whom he brought to Moscow in 1911 to decorate his palatial home.

He also commissioned two of the artist's most important works, “The Dance” and “Music”, which are the centrepieces of the Paris show, curated by the former head of the city's Picasso Museum, Anne Baldassari.

Lenin himself signed the decree to expropriate the works, before Stalin scattered the collection to museums in Moscow and St Petersburg, condemning some of the greatest masterpieces of 20th-century art as “bourgeois and cosmopolitan”.

The exhibition is the fruit of years of negotiations between LVMH boss Arnault and the Russian authorities, with a partnership agreement signed last year between the foundation and the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and Moscow's Pushkin Museum.

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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