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Museum Review: Basquiat and Schiele at Fondation Louis Vuitton

Museum Review: Basquiat and Schiele at Fondation Louis Vuitton

The Fondation Louis Vuitton (Louis Vuitton Foundation, in English) is an art museum and cultural center in Paris, created and sponsored by the LVMH group in 2006, and designed by the famous contemporary architect Frank Gehry. I have been to Paris numerous times, but had yet to visit this modern piece of architecture. The moment I heard they were featuring an exhibition on Jean-Michel Basquiat, I knew I had to visit.

The building is located within the Bois de Boulogne, a lush public park, so the first notable thing upon visiting the foundation is the stark contrast between the hyper-modern facade and its surroundings. It should be expected as a creation by Gehry, but awe-inducing nonetheless. The building is a voluminous curved structure, made with glass panels forming an abstracted cocoon around minimalist, geometric towers. There is also a large sloping fountain adjacent to the building, minimalist and sleek.

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I visited specifically with the desire to take advantage of an opportunity to see works by Basquiat in person, but I was happy to find out there was also a simultaneous exhibition on Egon Schiele. Two great artists, one place. General entry costs sixteen euros, ten euros for those under 26 years of age, and five euros for those under 18. I was surprised to find out the building is open until 9pm, which is almost unheard of for a museum. I would, however, recommend getting a good view of the building during the daytime, and experiencing the natural light within the building.

Egon Schiele

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The museum is organized in a way that almost forcefully leads you through the galleries in a predetermined direction. The Schiele exhibition is on the first floor and the only entrance into the galleries. I actually appreciated this method of navigating the galleries simply because it was straightforward. There was no confusion over which gallery to start with nor the constant concern of missing sections of an exhibition (the bigger museums in Paris and New York always have me double checking around corners to make sure I didn’t skip any galleries). It was quite crowded, so I was concerned when initially entering the exhibition that it may be difficult to get close to the art, especially because the first few galleries featured Schiele’s smaller sketches (the majority of the building was dedicated to the Basquiat exhibition, so there was less space and felt more crowded within the Schiele sections). This would be my only critique of the exhibition, but I also went on a weekend, and I am generally the type of art viewer who prefers an empty museum. Maybe a Wednesday morning would have better suited me. Otherwise, the exhibition was great.

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I’ve always appreciated Schiele’s ability to evoke emotion through even the most simple of his sketches. His work is grotesque yet musical. He chooses offensive colors and misshapes the human body, yet his work remains elegant. His depictions of the body and human sexuality border on melancholic and desolate, but I find his work less of a moral judgement on the sometimes perverse subjects he features, and more of a frank personal observation on human nature. This was especially highlighted by more innocent works—sketches and paintings of babies and young children, for instance—that I had never seen before. The context provided by the wall texts were useful and well-organized, but I found that Schiele’s art spoke for itself. Overall, a good overview of the artist’s work.

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Jean-Michel Basquiat

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This exhibition was one of Paris’ most anticipated of the season. Basquiat has become a beloved artist, one of the most important modern painters of our times. His ability to address issues of race, class, and politics in such a dynamic and distinct way has cemented him into the artistic canon. I always love seeing his bold work in person, and was lucky to catch a retrospective on his career at the Brooklyn Museum a few years ago. This exhibition was just as exciting and important.

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There was a great selection of his work displayed, and all of his famous motifs and themes were present. It was also the first time I had seen some of his sculptural pieces in person, canvases featuring beams of wood and floor nails.

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What was most interesting for me was seeing Basquiat’s work explained in an international context. The last retrospective I had seen on the artist was in his hometown of Brooklyn, which was obviously extremely relevant and connected to the very culture and society Basquiat made commentary on. Here, the exhibition was both examining Basquiat’s art and its place within American culture, but from an outsider’s point of view. I walked in on a guided tour group (French-speaking) and listened in as the guide explained cultural nuances regarding black athletes (specifically black boxers in this case) in 20th century United States. As a black woman who grew up in America, these nuances were more obvious to me, but it was refreshing to hear them articulately introduced and explained to people who didn’t necessarily grow up in the same society. These complex issues were made more comprehensible through the use of Basquiat’s art (a tour group of almost 40 people were enthralled by the context and history surrounding one of his paintings of Joe Louis), which is what makes him such an important figure, not only in art history but in our ever-connecting global society.

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Both exhibitions will be on view until January 14, 2019.

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