French artist Daniel Buren has transformed Frank Gehry, FAIA's glass-and-steel Fondation Louis Vuitton into a vibrant, multicolored kaleidoscope with an installation that opens on May 11, titled "L'Observatoire de la Lumière" (Observatory of Light). Fondation Louis Vuitton, which opened in 2014 to mixed reviews, features 3,528 panes of glass in its curvaceous, billowing 'glass sails'—as Gehry described them in an interview with Joseph Giovannini—that float the museum upon its setting within the Bois de Boulogne in Paris. Buren has reimagined these sails as pixellated spinnakers by alternating semi-transparent filters across the glazing in 13 colors and white.
In a discussion between Frank Gehry and Paul Goldberger presented by the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies at Washington, D.C.'s National Gallery of Art last month, Gehry spoke of his buildings as provocations to living artists, explaining that for the Guggenheim Bilbao, he had made "rectilinear galleries for dead artists, and galleries with what I would do for artists that were alive, to provoke a response." His strategy may not have paid off immediately: "When I finished Bilbao," he explained, "I never got another gallery for a long time."
Goldberger—who recently released Gehry's biography, Building Art: The LIfe and Work of Frank Gehry (Knopf, 2016)—played up the theme of an inexhaustible battle between art and architecture, begun in Bilbao and continuing in Paris, in describing Buren's work at Fondation Louis Vuitton: "For all the accusations of architecture overwhelming the art, here's a case of art overtaking architecture."
At Fondation Louis Vuitton, the art and architecture are so linked with the application of filters directly onto the glazing that the building itself becomes the art piece, through Buren's interpretation of Gehry's forms. Even with the exhibition closing at the end of the year, Gehry doesn't seem too concerned with the notion of permanence: "I'm 87, so I don't have to worry," he said at the panel.
“There is a quantity of mirror effects here at the Fondation that actually don’t come from mirrors but from the windows," Buren said in a release issued by Fondation Louis Vuitton to mark the exhibition opening. "Almost everywhere something is reflected … through the coloring of the sails, all those reflections will become more and more present and will awake those sleeping mirrors that are everywhere. I think that this will enable visitors to further understand and enjoy the singularity of this architecture.”
In an interview with Fondation Louis Vuitton artistic director Suzanne Pagé, Buren spoke about how his work changes Gehry's structure without altering it: "I knew, even before I made it, that my project would visually challenge this structure. At the same time, it also respects it. It’s obvious that the terraces are going to be transfigured on sunny days by the projections, which will completely change what we already know about this new structure. The original construction is very monochrome – creamy. Nothing interferes with the golden-brown ambience. Especially in the daytime, because there is no artificial lighting. Adding colour to this structure will radically change the impression it gives. Without physically transforming anything, simply because of the quality of the glass and its curves and dips, the forms will shift even though nothing has been changed."
This post has been updated to include Daniel Buren's description of the exhibition and an excerpt from his interview by Suzanne Pagé.