Planning a visit to the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris? That’s a fantastic idea and I have the ultimate visitor’s guide.
In 2006, French billionaire and luxury titan Bernard Arnault hired famed architect Frank Gehry to design a dramatic new art space.
Gehry produced a breathtaking building that’s a striking mix of glass, concrete, and steel. Set on the western edge of the Bois de Boulogne, it was the most radical design in Paris since I. M. Pei’s glass pyramid for the Louvre.
With its 12 glass paneled sails forming a canopy, the Gehry building has been described as a sailboat, crystal palace, or spaceship. The museum sits in a sunken reflecting pool fed by a cascading fountain, reinforcing the ship analogy.
The private museum houses the late-modern and contemporary art collection belonging to the foundation and Arnault, who is the CEO of the foundation’s parent company. But it’s mostly known for its blockbuster temporary exhibitions.
The Foundation Louis Vuitton was inaugurated in 2014. Because of its complex design, the museum took longer than they thought to built and cost more than budgeted.
Arnault signed a 55 year lease with the city of Paris. In 2062, the lease expires and the foundation comes a gift to Paris.
Overview Of The Fondation Louis Vuitton
The museum contains 11 galleries, monumental skylights, a large auditorium, a restaurant, and roof terraces.
All the galleries are of different sizes and shapes, left loosely packed rather than tightly boxed. Left over pockets of space between the cavernous galleries are called “chapels.”
The central core is dubbed the “Iceberg” and is enveloped by the glass sails. Each piece of glass has a unique shape, respecting the architect’s complex design. Glass was used to achieve a lightweight and transparent effect and to reflect the beautiful trees and the ever-changing sky in the park.
The enormous weight of the sails is supported by a crazy quilt framework of wood and steel. They are at all angles, nothing is vertical or horizontal. This gives the building a sense of movement.
The auditorium gives way to a man-made lake and reflecting pools called the “grotto.”
There is a viewing terrace above the iceberg, part open and part enclosed. You have views of the Bois de Bologne and various Paris landmarks. You can also get a close up look at the wood and steel structure supporting the sails.
The terrace is filled with all kinds of exotic trees and plants in three gardens, making it seem like a little village.
Visitors enter a tall entrance hall paved in Burgundy stone. Staircases and and paths lead to the galleries and to a rooftop with outdoor terraces enclosed by the glass sails.
The permanent collection focuses on four themes: Contemplative Art, Pop Art, Expressionism, and Music & Sound. There are works by Gerhard Richter, Damien Hirst, Alberto Giacometti, Andy Warhol, Louise Bourgeois, and Daniel Buren.
Guide To The Foundation Louis Vuitton: What To See
Although the foundation has a permanent collection, it’s really known for its blockbuster temporary exhibitions. It puts on two major special exhibitions annually. Works from the permanent collection are often integrated into the exhibitions.
When I was there, I was absolutely thrilled to see the Monet-Mitchell Exhibition. It’s on until February 27, 2023. I can’t recommend it enough.
The exhibition created an unprecedented “dialogue” between 60 works of the Impressionist and the Abstract Expressionist painters, many of them large scale.
12 of the Mitchell paintings on display were from the foundation’s permanent collection. Many of the late period Monet paintings were on loan from the Musée Marmottan Monet, another excellent museum that I urge you to visit.
You can see the strong visual and thematic parallels between the two artists — even though Mitchell ardently denied a connection. Monet was committed to the landscape as a subject, his works becoming more abstract as he aged. Mitchell immersed herself in the landscape.
Alongside the Monet-Mitchell exhibition was a wonderful Joan Mitchel Retrospective with 50 works from the artist.
There are also a handful of commissioned in situ works in the museum.
One is a series of 43 prism-shaped yellow columns by Olafur Eliasson entitled Inside the Horizon. They are mirrored and illuminated columns. The installation is located in the grotto by the pool.
The mirrored columns extend the length of the building on the lowest level. They reflect the surrounding architecture like a kaleidoscope. If you walk among them, it’s a bit surreal.
The mirrors distort reality and you’ll see reflections of the columns, the water, the architecture, and yourself. If you stand at a designated point, you’ll see 43 reflections of yourself.
Hanging in the staircase is a huge installation piece by Katrina Grosse entitled Canyon. It’s brilliantly colored and composed of 8 thick aluminum “petals” connected to a cross beam. With its curves and counter-curves, it too looks like a cut out sail.
You can also visit Frank Gehry’s studio, which is a permanent exhibit.
The studio has an original scale model and two widescreen videos shot using drones. You’ll also see the first ever sketches (more like scribbles) for the museum, expressing Gehry’s creative intent.
You will get a sense of the technological complexity of the building and how it came to life.
On the wall at the entry, you’ll see Gehry’s mission statement: “I dream. I dream of designing a magnificent vessel for Paris that symbolizes France’s profound cultural vocation.”
The auditorium is a beautiful space. Two sides are entirely made of glass.
The space has been conceived as a venue for lectures, conferences, concerts, dance, and fashion shows. It can seat 350 people. If the seats are hidden, it can accommodate up to 1,000 standing.
The elegant auditorium contains a permanent Ellsworth Kelly installation of five cheerful colored fabric panels as well as his 12-panel painted canvas that serves as a stage curtain.
The auditorium opens onto a pool, pathways, and the cascading waterfall, known as the “grotto.”
The lake sits 23 feet below the ground, causing the museum to appear to float in the water. A waterfall to the east is the “transition” back to the landscape.
Practical Information For The Fondation Louis Vuitton:
Here are some must know tips for visiting Fondation Louis Vuitton.
Address: 8 Avenue du Mahatma Gandhi
Open daily from 11:00 am to 8:00 pm. On Friday night, the museum is open until 11:00 pm. On Sunday, the museum opens at 9:00 am.
The admission fee is 16 €, which also gives you access to the Jardins d’Acclimatation. The audio guide is 5 €.
You most likely won’t be able to visit without pre-booking a timed entry ticket. This is a popular museum, especially among the Parisians.
When you arrive at the museum, be sure to get in the right line corresponding to the entry time on your ticket.
There will be 3 lines: a line for ticket holders at X time on the top of the hour, one for ticket holders at 30 minutes past the top of the hour, and one for those without tickets.
Expect to find people queueing up a half hour before their entry time, which the museum recommends. If you are visiting in winter, as I did, bundle up and prepare to wait in the cold for 30-40 minutes or so.
Despite the lines, once you’re inside, it doesn’t feel too crowded.
Is Foundation Louis Vuitton Worth Visiting?
You might be wondering if it’s worth visiting the museum. It’s rather far afield and can take a long time to actually get inside.
But I think it’s 100% worth it. The architecture is so unique and simply spectacular. The airy exhibition spaces are huge and brilliantly lit by the glass facade and skylights.
The Monet-Mitchell exhibition was perhaps the best temporary exhibition I have ever attended, a combination of perfect curation and a setting manufactured to showcase large scale modern art.
You will have to go through airport type security. There is only one security device, so this process takes awhile. You cannot bring any food or water into the museum.
I would also try to avoid going on a weekend day when there are more people and families visiting the adjacent park.
For information on the exhibits, you can download the Fondation Louis Vuitton app. The museum also offers short tours of the building’s architectural highlights. On weekdays, tours are every 30 minutes from 11:30 am to 7:00 pm, until 8:00 pm on Fridays and from 10:30 am on weekends.
The nearest metro station is Les Sablons. The museum is a 15 walk from the metro station. There is also an electric shuttle that leaves every 15 minutes from Place Charles de Gaulle. A return ticket costs 2 euros.
Le Frank is a fine dining restaurant on the ground floor of the museum that serves Mediterranean-influenced cuisine. You can’t eat at the restaurant without a valid ticket for the museum.
One downside? The cafe, although lovely, is rather small and can’t accommodate many of the people there to see the exhibitions.
I left quite hungry. If you plan to have lunch or dinner there, make a reservation in advance.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to the Fondation Louis Vuitton. You may find these other Paris travel guides and resources useful:
- 5 Day Itinerary for Paris
- 3 Day Itinerary for Paris
- 2 Day Itinerary for Paris
- Tips for Planning a Trip to Paris
- Tourist Traps To Avoid In Paris
- Top Attractions in Montmartre
- Top Attractions in the Marais
- Best Museums In Paris
- Hidden Gems in Paris
- Best Churches in Paris
- Best Things To Do in Paris in Winter
- Guide to the Opera District
- Secret day trips from Paris
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