Keys to a Passion: Fondation Louis Vuitton opens the door to the leading lights of modernism

Keys To A Passion
Frank Gehry's sailing ship - Fondation Louis Vuitton - now hosts some of the biggest hitters in modern art, in an exhibition titled Keys to a Passion., Courtesy of Iwan Baan 2014 and Gehry partners LLP
(Image credit: Iwan Baan)

Descend to the lower level of the Fondation Louis Vuitton - the bowels of Frank Gehry's anchored ship with its soaring glass sails - and straight ahead in the first gallery of six, you will find 'The Scream'. On loan from the Munch Museum (opens in new tab) in Oslo, it has been mounted into dark paneling that runs the expanse of the wall and, for obvious reasons, hangs behind a pane of glass.

But that protective barrier unintentionally unlocks the secret to Keys to a Passion (opens in new tab), the third stage of the Fondation Louis Vuitton's inaugural programming and first 'historic' exhibition since opening in October. Stare into the reflection and you see Edvard Munch's iconic expression of 20th century angst responding to the other major works occupying the room. Is it aghast at Kazimir Malevich's 'Bust with a Yellow Shirt', or Alberto Giacometti's attenuated 'Walking Man I' in bronze? Maybe that swirling malaise is a reaction to the disquieting duo of male studies, both from Francis Bacon; or the vampish allure of Anita Berber, the dancer rendered in red by Otto Dix in 1925.

Each of these works alone is an aesthetic exercise in psychoanalysis; as a group statement, combined with four self-portraits from lesser-known Finnish painter Helene Schjerfbeck, they all but drown the room in beautiful dread. It's not by accident that the second gallery presents two of Claude Monet's large 'Nymphéas' ('Water Lilies') along with three comparatively smaller - but equally calming - landscapes from Piet Mondrian, painted decades before the more recognisable 'Lozenges' in the following room. By the time you reach the final gallery and are confronted with Henri Matisse's 'Dance' from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, it's as if you've just cartwheeled through a cross-section of modern art's greatest hits.

Indeed, the fluctuating emotional registers from room to room offer an indication of the massive effort required pull off such an ambitious show; the 60 works from 22 artists originated from 40 galleries and private collectors. Negotiations for 'The Scream' and 'Dance' began nearly two years ago. And while provoking dialogue between works is among the motivations of any group show, seldom does a showing represent such widely recognised icons from so vast an array of institutions. To face three dynamic paintings from Fernand Léger is to witness a family reunion of sorts.

'Everything co-exists,' co-curator Suzanne Pagé told Wallpaper*, adding that 'the well-considered "mise-en-regard" deliberately positions pieces so that each can be experienced individually among the collective arrangement.'

The goal, added Pagé, was to keep the quantity of works low but the quality exceptionally high, all while ensuring the pieces best represented the four devised 'sequences' rather than standard isms or linear chronologies. Seemingly arbitrary, the themes - subjective expressionism, contemplative, popist and music - actually align with the Fondation's mission as a multi-dimensional cultural destination.

And as noted by Jean-Paul Claverie, advisor to Bernard Arnault and deputy director for the Fondation, an appreciation of today's contemporary art cannot exist without acknowledging the seismic shifts shaping recent art history.

Or, as Mr. Arnault expresses in the exhibition's catalogue, 'in the ever-changing realm of creativity, isn't looking at the past the most convincing way to welcome the most innovative new ideas?'

Obviously, the privately held Fondation has benefited from such significant loans thanks to Mr. Arnault and LVMH's ongoing support of arts institutions around the world. Since October, 500,000 people have already visited the building on the periphery of central Paris. Beyond assuring attendance, the show proves the power of a private museum today - and will address this issue head-on during a two-day conference June 12-13. In the meantime, for those who will never have the opportunity to visit the Bacon in Melbourne or Rothko's 'No. 46 (Black, Ochre, Red over Red)' in Los Angeles, Keys to a Passion brings pivotal works under one voluminous roof. You will likely never see them together like this again.

Fondation LV Still

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See the exhibition in situ as co-curator Suzanne Pagé comments on the cross-section of modern art's greatest hits on show

(Image credit: Iwan Baan)

Keys To A Passion

Head into the bowels of FLV and you will find Edvard Munch's 'The Scream', an loan from Oslo's Munch Museum. Courtesy of ADAGP Paris 2015

(Image credit: Iwan Baan.ADAGP Paris 2015)

Munch's iconic expression

Munch's iconic expression of 20th century angst responding to its new environment. Courtesy of ADAGP Paris 2015

(Image credit: Iwan Baan.ADAGP Paris 2015)

Four self-portraits

Also on show are four self-portraits from lesser-known Finnish painter Helene Schjerfbeck, drowning the room in beautiful dread. © ADAGP Paris 2015

(Image credit: Iwan Baan.ADAGP Paris 2015)

Emile Nolde

Hanging next to Emile Nolde, on show are a number of landscapes by Piet Mondrian, painted decades before his more recognisable works. Courtesy of ADAGP Paris 2015

(Image credit: Iwan Baan.ADAGP Paris 2015)

'Nymphéas' series

Nearby are two paintings from Monet's infamous 'Nymphéas' series. Courtesy of ADAGP Paris 2015

(Image credit: Iwan Baan.ADAGP Paris 2015)

Henri Matisse's 'Dance'

Henri Matisse's 'Dance' from 1909-1910 - one of the show's star pieces. Negotiations for the loan began nearly two years ago. Courtesy of The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, 2015 - Vladimir Terebenin 2014 and Succession H. Matisse

(Image credit: Iwan Baan.ADAGP Paris 2015)

Piet Mondrian and Constantin Brancusi

Piet Mondrian and Constantin Brancusi stand side-by-side in this artistic hall of fame. Courtesy of ADAGP Paris 2015

(Image credit: Iwan Baan.ADAGP Paris 2015)

Three works

Three works by Francis Picabia. Courtesy of ADAGP Paris 2015

(Image credit: Iwan Baan.ADAGP Paris 2015)

Black, Ochre, Red over Red

'No. 46 (Black, Ochre, Red over Red)' by Mark Rothko, 1957.  Courtesy of 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel, Christopher Rothko - ADAGP Paris 2015

(Image credit: The Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles)

Malevich's monochrome masterpieces

Malevich's monochrome masterpieces - 'Black Square', c.1923; 'Black Circle', 1915 and 'Black Cross', c.1920-23. Courtesy of ADAGP Paris 2015

(Image credit: Iwan Baan.ADAGP Paris 2015)

'Le Grand Déjeuner'

'Le Grand Déjeuner' by Fernand Léger, 1921. Courtesy of ADAGP Paris 2015 and the Museum of Modern Art - New York, Scala Florence

(Image credit: Iwan Baan.ADAGP Paris 2015)

Wassily Kandinsky

A number of works by Wassily Kandinsky form part of the exhibition's cross-sectioning of modernism's greatest hits. Courtesy of ADAGP Paris 2015

(Image credit: Iwan Baan.ADAGP Paris 2015)

Robert Delaunay's 'L'Equippe de Cardiff'

Léger's work facing Robert Delaunay's 'L'Equippe de Cardiff' of c.1912-13. Courtesy of ADAGP Paris 2015

(Image credit: Iwan Baan.ADAGP Paris 2015)

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