Saturday, 4 April 2015

Sailing in the clouds: Louis Vuitton, Paris

Curiosity took me recently to the suburbs of Paris to see Frank Gehry's extravagant construction for France's richest man, Louis Vuitton owner Bernard Arnault. 
The Fondation Louis Vuitton is designed as a cultural centre to house Arnault's collection of modern and contemporary art, borrowed works for exhibitions, and a concert hall.

On the edge of the Bois de Boulogne in the 16th arrondissement, it's designed as a vast sailing ship, intended to appear as if floating, suspended, above the ground.

To create the ship effect, beneath it is a sort of sunken, artificial lake, with water cascading towards it. 

Above, twelve enormous glass 'sails' are draped in curving, billowing shapes. 
It's impossible to get the whole building in camera view from the ground, but a side view gives some idea of the scale.

The effect is spectacular, certainly, and gets more so the higher you ascend to the roof top.

But the sails, and the crazy amount of timber and steel columns, beams, struts and props needed to support the illusion of weightless sails from afar, actually do rather block the views and potential connections with the surroundings.

Inside there's a ground floor restaurant with giant suspended sculpted fish, another of Gehry's favourite forms 

and impressive gallery spaces.

Not everyone is enthusiastic about the place though. Critics have called it a 'crazed indulgence of over-engineering' in which the overwhelming effect is of a building with lots and lots of empty, functionless space. 

And local residents protested vigorously against its construction, on the grounds that it broke multiple laws intended to preserve the character of the Bois. But, proof that money talks, their objections were overruled when a special law was passed in the Assemblée Nationale declaring that it must go ahead as a 'major work of art for the whole world'. 

Whatever you think of it, it's worth a visit for the building alone, and now to see a major exhibition of Modernists - Les Clefs d'une Passion (here).

Monday, 30 March 2015

Antwerp and Dries van Noten

I posted about lovely Antwerp last summer (here). Going back there on an utterly miserable, rainy winter's day a couple of weeks ago I wondered if I could sustain my enthusiasm for the city.

This square in the shopping and restaurant area of Graanmarkt that was filled with outdoor diners under leafy trees in the summer was deserted in the rain, but still elegant.

Cafés and bookshops offered warm, friendly interior spaces to dry out

and at Bourla restaurant behind the Toneelhuis lunch fully lived up to Belgium's dizzying reputation for good food.

And then there was fashion: at Momu (Museum of Fashion) the Dries van Noten exhibition has recently relocated from its run in Paris, back to van Noten's hometown.

Leading into the exhibition is a passage way filled with posters - references to music, films and fashion of the 70s and 80s when van Noten emerged as one of the Antwerp Six young designers ...

... a hint that the exhibition beyond is not so much a retrospective as an glimpse into his rich and prolific creative process.

Damien Hirst's butterfly collage, Proust, Cecil Beaton, Rothko, Francis Bacon, Jimi Hendrix, military uniforms, Rajasthan and Bollywood, Cindy Wright's skull art are just some of the elements that inspired his creativity. 

Antwerp March 2015. Yes, still one of my favourite European cities.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Design dreams: Vitra Haus

In Weil am Rhein, Germany - in the triangle where Germany, Switzerland and France meet -
 is a place that is a magnet for anyone interested in modern design and architecture. It's VitraHaus, the flagship store of furniture design company Vitra. 

Vitra Haus itself is in this building - a haphazard-looking stack of classic pitched-roof houses designed by Herzog & de Meuron (currently designing the new extension to London's Tate Modern) and contains Vitra's Home Collection.

But the Vitra 'campus' includes a whole collection of contemporary buildings designed by an amazing line up of some of the world's best known contemporary architects, including Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Alvaro Siza. 

The Design Museum above is designed by Frank Gehry and the geodesic dome used for events is based on Buckminster Fuller designs. Below, an original Airstream Kiosk selling ice creams and Balancing Tools sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.  Even the bus stop outside the campus is a design classic - by Jasper Morrison,with wire Eames chairs for seating!

Inside Vitra Haus, everything from the café and reception area is a visual treat. 

Spread across ascending floors are icons of 20th century design; here a collection of Isamu Noguchi's lamps, Alvar Aalto's Stool 60 and Table 90 and Charles & Ray Eames' rocker.

I loved how the green surroundings of Weil am Rhein are visible everywhere in these light- filled interior spaces. Here a desk by Jean Prouvé and Alvar Aalto's Paimio armchair are positioned for the view.

There are office spaces to inspire ...

and even the kids get designer furniture and toys: Eames elephants and a Hang it All, and junior Panton chairs. 

A collection of chairs is stacked framed against a glass window where mirrors reflect the car park below.

Vitra Haus, Weil am Rhein, Germany, 2014

Saturday, 21 February 2015


Driving from Bolzano and Merano in the South Tyrol into Switzerland, the Flüela Pass takes you through the Swiss Alps.  
The summit (it's one of the highest in Switzerland), minus winter snow, looks barren and rocky

but soon opens out into something altogether more picture-postcard-Alps

Descending via Davos (a surprisingly unlovely town) it's late afternoon by the time you reach Luzern, where all is peace and serenity on the shores of the lake.

There's time to walk over to the KKL - Kultur- und Kongresszentrum - in Europa Platz, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel (responsible for the fabulous Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris - I posted about it here

where performers in a World Band event are chilling in front of sunset views across the river

before heading to the old town across the wooden Kapellbrücke, Europe's oldest (1333) covered bridge (arguably, since much of it was rebuilt after burning down not long ago when someone tossed a lighted cigarette at it)

for a drink on the waterside while the light fades.

Luzern, Switzerland, 2014

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Art in nature in the Dolomites

A sculpture park with a difference - sculptures that biodegrade - is a hidden gem tucked away in a high, remote area of Italy's Dolomite mountains.

Getting there requires some determination and faith - there's a long drive along very narrow twisting, unsigned mountain roads - but all is forgiven when you reach this extraordinarily beautiful place. 

Artesella is an exhibition of art in nature in the woods of the Sella valley,Val di Sella, about 40 km from Trento in the South Tyrol.

Roger Rigorth, Drago, 2013

Several hundred international artists from around the world have come here since the 1980s to create artworks from materials found in the forest.

Anton Schaller, Rifugio, 2011

Works appear randomly along a 3 km walking route, called ArteNatura, through the forest. 

Each one is intended to express a relationship with nature. All are made of stones, leaves, branches and other organic materials collected in the surrounding Alpine forest.

Sally Matthews, Cervi/Deer, 2014

The idea is that they will ultimately naturally degrade into the landscape: 
'the works come out of the landscape, they inhabit it and,according to nature's timescale, they return to it again', according to Artesella's manifesto.

Aeneas Wilder, no title

In the summer, Artesella also thrives as a cultural centre - there's a natural amphitheatre in a clearing where outdoor concerts and theatre performances are held in this incredible mountain setting.

Alfio Bonnano, Chiocciola/Snail, 2012

Steven Siegel, Bridge II, 2009 - made entirely of old newspapers

Patrick Dougherty Tana Libera Tutti, 2011, bottom right

The largest-scale and most impressive work is the Cattedrale Vegetale, tree cathedral, created by Italian artist Giuliano Mauri in 2001. 

Giuliano Mauri, Cattedrale Vegetale, 2011

Over 3000 branches have been twisted and woven into naves and columns. In time the hornbeam trees planted within each column will replace the supporting log structure as it rots away and dies, preserving the shape of the cathedral.

I took these photos on a visit in September last year in early autumn. Since the works decay and disappear over time, the curators recognise the importance of keeping a photographic record, and this function has been taken on by a local, Aldo Fedele. This is one of his amazing pictures of the cathedral under snow, which makes me badly want to return to Artesella in the depths of winter ...  

Photo credit: Aldo Fedele

Artesella, Borgo Valsugana, Italy - making art in and with nature.

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