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I have a love/hate relationship with Frank Gehry. I had been amazed by his Dancing House when I visited Prague in the 90s, shortly after it was built, and a few years later I basically made a pilgrimage to see the Guggenheim Bilbao, which I also loved. He has now scattered similar buildings all over the world, and yesterday I visited his most recent big building, the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris. I was impressed, but with reservations.

Yes, it’s a big beautiful pile of steel and glass and wood:

Fondation Louis Vuitton viewed from the Jardin d'Acclimatation.

Fondation Louis Vuitton viewed from the Jardin d’Acclimatation.

View of the lobby at Fondation Louis Vuitton, with the pricey " Le Frank " restaurant at right.

View of the lobby at Fondation Louis Vuitton, with the pricey ” Le Frank ” restaurant at right.

The "Grotto" at Fondation Louis Vuitton.

The “Grotto” at Fondation Louis Vuitton.

Upper terrace of Fondation Louis Vuitton.

Upper terrace of Fondation Louis Vuitton.

View of La Défense from Fondation Louis Vuitton.

View of La Défense from Fondation Louis Vuitton.

Yes, as a piece of abstract sculpture I do love it. But here are my reservations:

  • The building is extremely confusing to navigate through. Some floors seem to have two discontinuous sections which require you to go up or down to move between. I encountered several other visitors who were even more lost than I was.
  • The amount of gallery space is remarkably small for such an enormous building. There’s a tremendous amount of “wasted” space.
  • Ultimately I think Gehry’s “crumpled piece of paper” buildings will be seen as signature extravagances of a profligate era, when money that should have been used to alleviate social conditions for all was frittered away on indulgences for the very rich. It’s a “1% building,” financed by a vendor of luxury products to that demographic, and housing art that is vulnerable to the same critique.

A few practical considerations, if you’re thinking of visiting:

  • There’s a reasonably good show of borrowed works in four basement galleries, but only one of the eight permanent galleries is open. If your main interest is in art you’ll want to wait until more of it can be seen. The rest of the building is accessible, however, so if it’s architecture you’re interested in go ahead.
  • Your ticket includes access to the adjacent Jardin d’Acclimatation, a pleasant family-orientated park. If you buy a Louis Vuitton ticket in advance you can approach the museum through the park, but if not you have to take a somewhat roundabout route from the métro.
  • The restaurant in the museum is expensive and there can be a long wait. Weather permitting you may do better by eating at one of the nearby restaurants in the Jardin d’Acclimatation. Your Louis Vuitton ticket lets you return to the museum after the meal.
  • Be sure to get the view from the upper terraces, and from the “Grotto.” Both are more-or-less outside, however, so if the weather is challenging you might want to retrieve your coat (and umbrella!) before those explorations.