Bernard Arnault, chairman of the luxury goods group LVMH and France’s richest man (with an estimated fortune of $21.5 billion), has revealed his plans for a new gallery in Paris designed by the Canadian architect Frank Gehry. The E100m building, which will house the “Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation in Paris”, is set to open in 2009 in the Bois de Boulogne district in the west of Paris. At a press launch last month, Mr Arnault was unwilling to disclose details of what he intends to display in the gallery. However, he is known to have acquired art by Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Serra, Maurizio Cattelan and Doug Aitken.
Mr Arnault also bought a work by Ugo Rondinone at the FIAC fair in Paris in 2003. He visited again in 2004 and purchased Rue Pifre, a 1961 painting by Jean Dubuffet, for around $6.5m.
Other purchases include Power Chords, an installation by Saâdane Afif that was shown at the 2005 Lyons biennale, Domestic Tornado (2005), a sculpture by Lionel Estève on offer for E20,000 in the Art Unlimited section of Art Basel in 2005, and the installation Upside Down, Pastoral Scene (2002) by US artist Sam Durant which was seen in the exhibition “Playlist” at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris in 2004.
Mr Arnault says he wants to show modern artists like Dubuffet alongside more recent ones such as Basquiat. LVMH designers such as Christian Dior may also put some of their work on show.
Mr Arnault is also believed to have commissioned contemporary artists including Daniel Buren and Michael Heizer to make sculptures for the museum site.
The project is seen as a snub to Mr Arnault’s arch rival, François Pinault, the owner of Christie’s. The battle between the two luxury goods giants began in 1999 when Mr Pinault bought a 42% share in Gucci, cutting Mr Arnault’s share in the Italian fashion company. Mr Pinault’s company, PPR, then fought Mr Arnault’s LVMH through the Dutch courts for overall control of Gucci. In 2004, Mr Pinault bought up the majority stock under the terms of a contract signed in 2001.
The fierce competition extended to their art collections. Four years ago Mr Pinault announced he would build a museum on the Ile Seguin in Paris to house his extensive contemporary art collection. He abandoned the project last year, complaining that red tape had led to excessive delays; instead he is now showing a rotating selection from his holdings at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice.
Mr Arnault’s project has yet to be granted planning permission but he is unlikely to face the same obstacles encountered by Mr Pinault with the Boulogne-Billancourt council; Bois de Boulogne is run by the City of Paris council and the scheme has the full backing of Paris’s mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, and the French Culture Minister, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres.
When asked if he feared his project could be delayed by bureaucracy, Mr Arnault sidestepped the issue by replying that comparisons to other foundations were “not pertinent”. He added that LVMH has sponsored 26 exhibitions in France since 1991.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Luxury goods billionaire to show his art in Paris'