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New Paris museum boosts city’s claim as global capital of modern art

One of the world's biggest art collectors unveiled Monday his plans for a spectacular new museum in Paris, cementing the city's claim to be a modern art capital.

New Paris museum boosts city's claim as global capital of modern art
Photo: AFP
French billionaire Francois Pinault will show his $1.4 billion (€1.25 billion) collection of modern masters in the domed Bourse de Commerce, within a stone's throw of the Louvre, long the world's most visited museum.
 
The new gallery, which he said would open in early 2019, is also within sight of the Pompidou Centre, which houses Europe's largest modern art collection.
   
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo called the museum “an immense gift” to the French capital and told reporters that it would help put the city back at the top of the modern art tree.
   
Pinault, 80, holds an enormous trove of abstract and contemporary masterpieces in a 3,500-piece collection that goes from Mark Rothko to Damien Hirst.
   
He owns the auction house Christie's and built a fashion empire that contains labels like Gucci, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga, and already has his own private museum in Venice.
   
But he has been trying for decades to find a home for his collection in Paris.
   
That desire sharpened when his great business rival Bernard Arnault, who controls the LVMH luxury goods conglomerate, opened the Frank Gehry-designed Louis Vuitton Foundation for his art collection in 2014.
   
Pinault has commissioned another Pritzker-winning architect, the Japanese master Tadao Ando, to convert the magnificent 19th-century Bourse de Commerce, which sits on the edge of Paris's former central market district.
 
'Epicentre' of world culture
 
Ando compared the circular building to the ancient Pantheon in Rome. He said the concrete cylinder he plans for the inside of the building would be “the cultural epicentre of Paris which in turn is the epicentre of culture in the world.”
 
He said he would create three floors of galleries under the building's dome, whose spectacular frescos representing trade with the five continents are also being restored.
   
The former corn exchange is a part of a one-billion-euro urban renewal project to give what Hidalgo calls a “new beating heart” to the city's Les Halles district.
   
Paris's beautiful central market was bulldozed in the 1970s to make way for an airless underground shopping complex and transport hub which many Parisians loathe.
   
But a vast new steel-and-glass canopy unveiled last year to put a lid on the problem has also been derided, with one critic branding it a “custard-coloured flop”.
   
Asked earlier if he was going to his expand his collection to fill the new space, Pinault said, “When you see a new work you have to know when to jump on it. The big public institutions cannot do that.
   
“We are a museum in movement and (will be) very complementary to the existing institutions,” he added.
 
In 2001, Pinault handed the reins of his empire to his son Francois-Henri, who is married to the Mexican Hollywood star Salma Hayek.
 
Since then the man once described as “the most powerful in the art world” has mostly dedicated himself to his art collection, installing it in the Palazzo Grassi in Venice and two other historic buildings there.
   
The Venice venues will work in tandem with the new Paris gallery, sources close to the collector told AFP.

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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