Starkitect: The Two Facades of Frank Gehry

Frank Gehry is the Rorschach test of modern architecture. And his latest creation –  Fondation Louis Vuitton – is the ultimate inkblot.

From Joel Henning’s mash note in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:

A New Art Palace Sets Sail in Paris


As you approach Frank Gehry’s monumental structure on the edge of Paris in the verdant Bois de Boulogne, you first see a billowing array of glass panels joined together like a three-dimensional collage, very much suggesting a ship under sail, an illusion reinforced by the sunken reflecting pool fed by a ground-level cascading fountain. Here, glass becomes Mr. Gehry’s defining material, molded in a wholly novel way. The architect of the titanium Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain and the stainless-steel Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles has found yet another way—entirely new—to make our jaws drop, inspired in part by his love of yachting and in part by the monumental barrel-vaulted glass roof of Paris’s Grand Palais exhibition hall off the Champs-Élysées.

This is the Fondation Louis Vuitton, built by LVMH, the company whose luxury brands include Louis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy, as well as Dior, Fendi, Bulgari, Donna Karan, Givenchy and a few dozen others. LVMH may well be the ideal client for this structure, perhaps the most self-conscious work of architecture designed to house art since Frank Lloyd Wright’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on New York’s Fifth Avenue.

Self-conscious, of course, is Frank Gehry’s middle name, as Martin Filler’s less-taken take in the New York Review of Books indicates.

Gehry’s postmillennial work tends to be anything but humble, especially the extravagant Fondation Louis Vuitton, which is the equivalent of fifteen stories high and from certain angles imparts the overbearing aggressiveness projected by the tilting Cor-Ten steel sculptures of his competitive friend Richard Serra. The Vuitton building, which occupies a verdant site in the northern part of the Bois de Boulogne, has been an instant popular hit. It continues a long history of Parisian modern wonders at once novel and bizarre, typified by the Montgolfier balloon, Foucault’s pendulum, the Eiffel Tower, and the Spirit of St. Louis, which combined technological novelty with conceptual audacity and drew tout le monde to gawk at the latest sensation.

And draws them now to gawk at endless Louis Vuitton marketing, which is notably absent from the much more artistic Fondation Cartier, according to Filler.

An admirable example of a contemporary art center built by a luxury goods purveyor is the Fondation Cartier, which was founded in 1984 and this year celebrates its twentieth anniversary in the wonderful building designed for it on the Boulevard Raspail by Jean Nouvel. One of his strongest yet most discreet designs, this rectilinear, multilayered glass-walled structure has aged exceptionally well. More importantly, the Fondation Cartier’s programming has been consistently excellent, as exemplified by its current show, “The Inhabitants” (curated by the artist Guillermo Kuitca with works by himself as well as Francis Bacon, Vija Celmins, David Lynch, and Patti Smith, among others), a juxtaposition of disparate works that make a great deal of subliminal sense when viewed together.

Versus Gehry’s work, which makes mostly commercial sense. At least so far.

(We’ll pass over in silence Gehry’s farpotshket Eisenhower Memorial, a.k.a. Gehry’s Folly, about which the less said – and done – the better.)

Meanwhile: Dommage, Bois de Boulogne.

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6 Responses to Starkitect: The Two Facades of Frank Gehry

  1. Bill says:

    All interesting works of art, unless you have to pay for them, live or work in them, or maintain them. Check out the Stata center as MIT–same thing: cost 50% more than budgeted, costs a fortune to maintain, is actually very inefficient for intended use–your tax and tuition dollars at work.

  2. Mike Barry says:

    I prefer his coquille at Churchy LaFemme.

  3. Curmudgeon says:

    Not sure that I’d be interested in having the office in the upper right-hand corner in the picture that you’ve used.

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