Art en vogue
The name sounds a little long-winded: Lafayette Anticipations – Fondation d’entreprise Galeries Lafayette. In the middle of the Marais district, the city of Paris, which is definitely not lacking in museums, has now gained a hotspot for contemporary art. Commissioned by the department store group, in a former industrial building from the 19th century, Dutch star architect Rem Koolhaas conjured up a movable tower of steel and glass with four platforms that can be shifted as needed. No mean feat to find as much exhibition space as possible in the relatively small area of 2200 square-metres. This is the first project Koolhaas has completed in Paris, but as an architect for fashion companies he's a master of his craft: he built Fondazione Prada in Milan.
For a few years, there has been a boom in the new museums that bear the names of renowned fashion companies. In 2014, Fondation Louis Vuitton opened its doors. In 2015, this was followed by Fondazione Prada in Milan. Last year, these were joined by the Yves Saint Laurent Museums in Paris and Marrakesh. And now: Lafayette Anticipations. The formula is always the same: an evocative brand name, a big architect and contemporary art. Fondation Cartier, which was founded in 1984, has long been a lone pioneer of trends, luxury and art.
Just like kings and churches of bygone days, today’s luxury brands adorn themselves with art collections. The companies’ constantly growing commitment is no coincidence. It is a win-win situation for everyone involved: The brands flaunt their image with art, the artists enhance their market value, the companies behind them enjoy tax benefits thanks to the foundations and use their exhibitions to specifically increase the value of their own collection. Art has also long since become an investment.
The boundaries are merging between noble patronage and targeted product marketing. Artists are being enticed to design suitcases, bags, perfume bottles and champagne bottles. Brands are hiring public museums to present exhibitions of their best-selling perfumes. Cultural pessimists are already referring to contemptuous artketing. But I wouldn’t go that far.
For me freedom of travel between art and fashion is subject to just one law: credibility. When fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli designed a hat or a lobster dress together with her friend Dali in 1937, or artists such as Tom Sachs or Sylvie Fleury focus on their work with brand cult and logos, that’s authentic art. But whoever is willing to commit to anything and everything as an artist has not earned this title. The field of conflict, the contradictions and the limitations of artistic freedom are apparent elsewhere: As much as luxury brands like wooing artists to promote them, they get touchy when these artists put their own twist on their brands. The graffiti artist Zevs who sprayed the windows of big brand boutiques with the liquidated Chanel logo was arrested and charged in court. Tom Sachs, whose claim to fame is his consumer critical sculptures such as the Chanel guillotine or the Prada toilet, was given his own big exhibition in 2006 with Fondazione Prada, but without the toilet. Today’s new art patrons don’t have such a great sense of humour. Which is quite a shame really.