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French president inaugurates new Louis Vuitton art museum

Bertrand Guay, AFP | The Fondation Louis Vuitton just outside of Paris

The Fondation Louis Vuitton contemporary art museum, a massive structure just outside Paris of billowing sails and glass designed by Frank Gehry, was inaugurated by French President François Hollande on Monday.

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Thirteen years in the making, the museum is the brainchild of France’s richest man, Bernard Arnault, the chief executive and founder of LVMH.

The eleven galleries provide 3,850 square metres (41,441 square feet) of exhibition space to house temporary shows and a permanent collection, which will include works borrowed from Arnault’s personal collection.

The ambitious project took 100 engineers assembled by famed Los Angeles-based architect Gehry and a total of 3,000 workers. French media reports say the project’s original price tag of approximately 100 million euros ($127.5 million) has been largely surpassed.

“You don’t put a price tag on a dream,” Arnault said, when asked about the final cost of the project.

The privately owned museum will open to the public on October 27, but will be donated to the city of Paris in 50 years.

Reflecting sky, clouds and light, the airy and audacious building by the architect behind the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, juts from a one-hectare plot on the western edge of the city.

From the inside, cutaways allow glimpses of the surrounding Jardin d’Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne as well as the Eiffel Tower and La Defense business centre.

Controversy and rivalry

The building faced stiff opposition from neighbourhood groups worried about less green space.

“The few people who decide to build audacious things are badly understood, and it’s only when the project is finished that you hear, ‘My God, it’s magnificent!’” Gehry told Paris Match magazine this month.

The project, which has garnered kudos from around the world, also represents a major publicity coup for Arnault, 65, a sometimes controversial figure in French high society.

Arnault faced a backlash in the media two years ago for requesting Belgian nationality as France prepared to introduce a 75 percent supertax. He later withdrew the request, saying it was not motivated by tax concerns.

Arnault’s ambitious project is one in the eye to his arch rival Francois Pinault, founder of PPR, which has now become the luxury group called Kering.

Also an avid contemporary art collector, Pinault envisioned a museum built on a former Renault plant in nearby Boulogne Billancourt. Delays and bureaucratic red tape hindered the project, however, and he eventually opted for Venice, where the Palazzo Grassi now holds the Pinault collection.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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