Art and Commerce

Art and Commerce

louis_vuitton_parisPARIS, Oct 17, 2006/FW/ – We have all been informed in recent years, months, weeks, days, that the world of fashion wanted to have something to do with art. I mean Art with a capital A, Contemporary Art, Creative Art, you know, the useless kind, the Art for Art’s sake kind.

For instance, we all know that, after having investigated the opening of a Museum of Contemporary Art on the former premises of the Renault site in Boulogne, on the very outskirts of Paris, François Pinault, the CEO and founder or the PPR Group (which includes fashion and accessories brands  such as Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci, Balenciaga, Boucheron, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Bottega Veneta, Sergio Rossi etc.), has encountered some difficulties about this site and has continued his project in Venice, Italy.

In april this year, the wonderful Palazzo Grassi* has opened its doors to unveil a selection of François Pinault’s collections of contemporary art. Good enough: the setting is wonderful, the Palazzo Grassi has undergone a complete renovation under the direction of the architect Tadao Ando, the pieces displayed in (and outside) the premises by Rothko, Fischer, Koons, among others are just grand, inspiring, puzzling, and I cannot but highly recommend a visit there. It might even make a trip to Venice worth the money.

The Fondation Fançois Pinault pour l’Art Contemporain seems to reveal a generous intention to share with the general public the wonders of the luxury & retail mogul’s collections. It is certainly a fantastic recognition for the artists whose works are exposed there, as well as an original, powerful and pleasant way of educating the public. It can also be seen, from another angle, as a courageous step to display one’s extremely personal choices and tastes, especially from one of the most influential persons in the European and International world of luxury.

No wonder, last week, François Pinault was named by the London-based international magazine Art Review, “the most influential personality in the world of Art”. On this list of 100 people, Pinault ranks number one, when last year, he was only number three.

Another French personality of the art world was on the same list last year, at number 21, but is strangely out of it this year. Bernard Arnault is nevertheless an extremely influential man, the CEO of the LVMH Group (which includes fashion and accessories brands such as Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Céline, Kenzo, Marc Jacobs, Donna Karan, Fendi, Loewe etc.); Arnault, who currently ranks number one on the list of the wealthiest French citizens, is famous for his passion for contemporary art.

At the beginning of the Paris Fashion Week, the CEO of the world’s number one group in the luxury industry has nevertheless made a public announcement**, stating that the Fondation Louis Vuitton pour la Création would open in the Paris Jardin d’Acclimatation around 2010 in a building shaped like a giant cloud of glass designed by the American architect Franck O. Gehry. Works by Picasso, Rothko and Dubuffet, among others, part of the LVMH collections will be displayed in this place of creation and exchange, which should make French culture even more dazzling to the entire world, and which will cost about 100 million euros to build. So far, so good, intentions seem pure here too, we just have to wait until 2010 to check it and be conquered, and probably discover Bernard Arnault’s name ranking number one on the list of the 100 most influential people in the world of art published by the British International magazine.

However, the smaller piece of news that caught both my eye and my conscience these days might seem of a much lesser importance and is certainly not drawing as much attention. It nevertheless does concern Louis Vuitton and, certainly against the group’s will, creates in this context a kind of paradox about generosity. France has known, for many years now, a social and religious controversy about the opening of stores on sundays. The CFTC (a respected trade-union of Catholic workers) has denounced on October 11, an intervention by the French Ministry of Employment to favour the opening of the Louis Vuitton flagship store situated on the Champs-Elysées. In a letter to the Court which had cancelled the authorization to open the shop on sundays, the Director of Work Relations at the above mentioned ministry, explains that this shop “is also a space for art and culture, due to its particular layout”. The Christian trade-union reacts and asserts that “assimilating handbags to art and culture is an intellectual swindle”. It might be the case in a store, but it does not seem to be on the minds of Bernard Arnault or François Pinault. Or is it?