Another Fabulous Staircase by Frank Gehry

Another fabulous staircase by Frank Gehry (see Art Gallery of Ontario).

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Though it reeks of money and is founded on vulgarity (I am no great admirer of the Louis Vuitton brand), Frank Gehry’s Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris is a magnificent and expressive construction. Likened by many to a ship, I see it, rather, as a praying mantis about to prey, or another huge insect with an exoskeleton.

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As you make your way through it, every twist and turn a surprise, the gallery feels almost improvised, as if made by a child from a kit of glass, wood, steel and slabs, braced here and there haphazardly as it grew. But no doubt there’s subtle mathematics (and probably huge computational power) behind this extraordinarily complicated construction. At least I hope so. Gehry takes the materials of which so many sober and tightly controlled modernist buildings are made and puts them together with joy, if not the impatience of a child. It’s Baroque elation rather than Renaissance austerity.

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Unlike the Sydney Opera House, whose striking exterior was conceived without much thought as to how an opera auditorium and concert hall might be crammed inside its sails, the inside spaces of this building don’t disappoint. It’s a beautifully organised exhibition space made up of vast cool galleries, many with more than a sliver of natural light, each leading on to the next one, adjoining levels linked by escalators and staircases that thread their way from floor to floor. Half-enclosed, half-exposed decks beneath the propped up canopies offer views of the Bois de Boulogne and the water basin in which the building stands.

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Even the door handles are deliberate, and distinctive. It looks expensive and it is. The building cost around 100 million pounds.

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The gallery is far more interesting than its current exhibition of pop art and musical or sound-based pieces, a third selection from the vast LVMH collection. There are a dozen or so works by Andy Warhol, including the usual cynically self-celebratory self-portraits (they do nothing for me), a monumental political triptych by Gilbert and George, video art in the basement, musical art on the upper decks. Some is decorative, some almost beautiful, much of it banal, or pretentious, and a little that’s pure torture: a large dark cube in the basement where you’re sonically assaulted and brutally machine-gunned by projections on all four walls, and a clicking room of deck chairs and asynchronous metronomes – an installation called Rejuvenator of the Astral Balance by Marina Abramovic.

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metronome hell

A delightful John Cage musical sculpture, and a roomful of mirrors and filmed close-ups of a performance of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola were my favourites.

I’m in Paris for a software conference at the appallingly brutal Palais de Congres, a short walk through the park from the Louis Vuitton Foundation and a depressing contrast.

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But I suppose you can’t live an exuberant Frank Gehry kind of life all the time.

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