You know if you asked me honestly why I went to the LV cultural space I hope I'd be honest enough to tell you something about a certain sardonic sensation, and the presentiment that somewhere in the whole experience I'd find some kind of grist for the mill of this review. Just something about the gallery that sits above what I believe – and I may well be wrong – is the most profitable store in Paris, if not the world. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I have heard that the LV store on Champs-Élysées is the fourth biggest tourist attraction in Paris after Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Louvre. This was told me by an employee of the company, and one with something of slavish devotion to their employer, but still, just the fact I can't dismiss it out of hand makes the point. Not bad for a trunk maker some might say, even if now the company is owned by France's richest individual – again, if I’m not mistaken.
Serban Savu, Painters; Courtesy of the artist and LV Espace Culturel.
And of course the question is what kind of art is l'Espace Culturel showing? Well, once you've got past the lift it's Romanian painting.
But first a little more about the lift. The space you arrive in is not so curiously forbidding, that is if you're familiar with the imposing entrance of LV Pont Neuf, but forbidding nonetheless. A foyer, dark, spacious, tall. A woman off to one side. Three lifts. The cultural space is accessed by the central lift, and while you wait for the central lift, smart looking employees hop into the other two and smile apologetic faces. When the central lift arrives there is a man who operates it. Your feet are greeted by thick shag carpet that is also covering walls and ceiling. As the doors close the lift operator explains that you will be plunged into total darkness in order to "prepare your eyes for the work above." A moment to cleanse the visual palette of you like, to prepare it for the exquisite flavours that are to come.
The disappointment is of course that when the doors open you are presented with an art gallery showing art work rather than my conception of a visual cornucopia. And, to be honest, I don't like the gesture. If this action was considered an artwork in itself, okay I'd go for it, but this whole idea of cleansing your eyes just seems like pretentious nonsense. And actually the real visual treat when you arrive is the dramatic view over Paris, although, unfortunately, you aren't allowed on the balcony.
Simon Cantemir Hausi, Back Yard Camping; Courtesy of the artist and LV Espace Culturel
But here we strike the incongruous thing; the artwork was okay, a selection of Romanian painters, one of whom a friend had pointed out at FIAC (a friend whose eye I trust, and who also happens to be Romanian, although I'm sure this is a coincidence). There was some value in some of it, and nothing was bad per se, but there was little to light a rocket in my ass if you get what I mean.
And this is the problem, given all the pretention, the ostentatious building, et cetera, et cetera. I expected something really powerful, you know; a room full of Koons would be perfect, or Kapoor, or anyone who operates within the shiny vernacular LV inhabits. And instead I get a rather well intentioned and inoffensive show that wouldn't be out of place in a minor room of a public gallery. This is what felt wrong, disingenuous somehow; like you can't hold art up this high and pretend that Vuitton is just a humble little bag manufacturer, or vice versa act as though the brand is such an institution that it offers just that, an institutional exhibition. You'd think that with its history of collaboration with artists, like Murakami or Kusama, Vuitton could give something more, well, impressive. A space that somehow reflects the brand. This would make sense.
And I must make it clear, I don't intend to do a disservice to Romanian art – there is some particularly good work, especially Serban Savu, a great painter of quiet suburban scenes – it's just the cognitive dissonance between the two elements was maybe too much. And, if I'm entirely honest this project feels like a half-hearted gesture, particularly if one makes the comparison with, I don't know, perhaps Bernard Arnault's private collection. One hopes that the new Frank Gehry designed LVMH gallery won't follow suit.
(Image on top: DAN BEUDEAN, Sir Richard Francis Burton; Courtesy of the artist and LV Espace Culturel.)