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Visiting the Louis Vuitton Fondation

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I like art. I used to not know them. But then I tried to. So now I slowly do. The Louis Vuitton Fondation is a contemporary art museum and culture centre that is sponsored by LVMH in Bois de Boulogne, Paris. Lured by its magnificent exterior and the collection of Chinese arts that is currently showing in the museum, we made our way there one afternoon.

Like the modern-day Hercules of architecture superhero, Louis Vuitton Fondation is armed with some really avant-garde designs by architect Frank Gehry. On the inside, there are multilevel terraces, large auditoriums and various spacious rooms used to promote (or rather to preserve) the long-established intellectual achievements of human – art and culture.

Adding to the ultra futuristic-looking roof structure now is the staggeringly colourful work of Daniel Buren, “Observatory of Light”. (Yes, prior to this the sails of Louis Vuitton Fondation were colourless glass panels.)  Daniel Buren has brought this avalanche of glass sails to life with 3,600 pieces of coloured filters punctuated at equal distance. Now the Fondation is breathing under a variety of hues, shadows and lights depending on the time of day and the ever changing weather and season.

As much as we admired the architecture, the star was really the collection of Chinese arts by twelve artists, 11 of which from Mainland China. Their messages and views were presented in very distinctive forms, yet become one through their underlying depiction of social scenes in China today. Well, at least to me, this is what this exhibition is all about – China today.

Since the Economic Reform in early 1980s, the national wealth of China has experienced unprecedented heights. But as a country with the highest population in the world, a complete transformation does not happen overnight. Even though many people have benefited greatly and become incredibly rich from the Reform, they still struggle to adapt to their new social status. For a nation who places great value on Confucianism and prides ancestor-worshipping as their fundamental culture, this struggle is not inexplicable.

How do I align myself with the world, particularly with the Western world? How do I move forward, at the same time, not be detached from my roots?

It seems like to attain the ultimate balance of ying and yang is not as straightforward as it appears, and thereby opens a world of possibilities to the artistically-vocal creatives – to speak their minds through arts. 
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^ Right above the ticket booth is the large stainless-steel LV logo designed by Frank Gehry.

And below is the view from the terrace.

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We started from the first floor, with the installations and sculptures by Huang Yong Ping, Ai Wei Wei and Zhang Huan.

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^ The doe and Buddha of a Thousand arms are both the works of Huang, who often combines elements of Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity to voice his opinions of East-meets-West society; the tree is by the famous activist Ai Wei Wei; and the copper Buddha head with visible welds and oxidised areas is Zhang’s peaceful reminder that life is not permanent. 

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^ When the Winged Victory of Samothrace becomes one with Buddha from Tianlongshan – this is Xu Zhen’s work. It reflects globalisation and by using the aesthetic power of images that are heavily used by modern-day media, he questions the consumers behaviour in China i.e. is there even a tinge of spirituality intact? 

Louis Vuitton Fondation 18Louis Vuitton Fondation 19Louis Vuitton Fondation 20Louis Vuitton Fondation 21^ The coloured Guan Yin is another work by Xu zhen. It was computer-generated and produced based on the porcelain figurine of the Goddess of Mercy preserved in Beijing’s Forbidden City. “A symbol of new pop faith grounded in contemporary society.”

The five dolls is the work of Zhang Xiao Gang, who set to explore the themes of memory and individual identity. This work was inspired by a family photo taken during the Mao era. The emotionless faces of the dolls represent their insignificance in a big Chinese family. Naked from the waist down and wearing adult uniform that corresponds with the career that their parents have chosen for them, it’s  a very realistic and sadly relevant depiction of Chinese family.

One video showed scenes of young labourers voicing out their dreams against the backdrop of their inadequate working conditions. One wants to be a rockstar, another a dancer and another a fengshui master. The video finished with an ambiguous slogan “my future is not a dream”. Perhaps even the dreamers themselves are unsure about their future and capability.

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The next one is a gripping presentation by British artist, Issac Julien – Ten Thousand Waves, which explores the themes of displacement and immigration. We entered the room that was surrounded by a very clever display of levitating screens. The work was inspired by an accident in England where a group of illegal Chinese immigrants were swept away by rising tides while working as shellfish collector by the bay. The artist pays homage to the Chinese culture through a combination of poems, calligraphy by the master Gong Fagen, a series of landscapes and images of Mazu (Goddess of the Sea) acted by renowned Chinese actress, Maggie Cheung.

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And the last of today’s post is the Giant N’3 by Zhang Huan, the most fascinating yet disturbing piece of all. 

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As you can tell from the pictures, it is a behemoth of sculpture. Zhang uses this art to represent a being caught between two worlds – do you see a sharman dressed in animal fur or a female tramp wrapped in patchwork of rags? Do you see animals congregate to represent human or human covering themselves with fur for protection?

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^ Made with cowskin, steel, wood and polystyrene.

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It’s a visual feast, a very riveting and startling one.

We finished viewing the exhibition then ventured out, ready to be engulfed by a bar of geometric yellow mirrors and the roar of a still waterfall. 

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And of course, given that it was tea time, we wouldn’t leave without having some tea and cake from the restaurant, Le Frank, managed by Michelin-starred chef Louis Nomicos.

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Over our drinks and sweets, we talked about our favourite piece from the exhibition. And ironically, my favourite one was not captured by the camera. It’s a short video by Tao Hui, called “The Dusk of Tehran“. He showed a young Iranian actress in the back of a taxi, smoking and speaking with the invisible drivers – saying the exact words that Hong-Kong pop singer Anita Mui had said to her fans in her last concert before her death.

The setting of the video was grey and intense, the actress mellow. She told the driver about her desire for love and lamented about the difficulty of finding it. It was a compelling dialogue reproduced in a different geographical context, yet extremely fitting and relevant to the subjugation that is experienced by Iranian women today. So raw, so fragile and so honest.

It’s the purpose of art, to reveal the most human side of human.

I can only urge you to give art a go. And please visit this place. 

With love x

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  • I’ve always wanted to go here since the magazine I work with did a feature on it! Glad to hear you enjoyed it and even gladder to hear that it shines equal spotlight on Asian artists. Zhang Huan and Ai Wei Wei are some of my personal favourites for their strive to highlight current issues! Can’t wait to see more 🙂

  • Alexandra Luella

    Yea there were a lot of locals who went for this exhibition! I just learnt that you work at Tatler Malaysia. What an amazing job! Can’t think of anyone more suitable than you! xx