February 23, 2024

Paris Journal: Tycoon’s Project: Nimby With a French Accent

But a neighborhood group in Paris has put a stop to Mr. Arnault’s major vanity project — a Frank Gehry-designed museum to sit on the northern edge of the Bois de Boulogne and house Mr. Arnault’s lavish collection of contemporary art.

This being France, and Mr. Arnault being a sort of Ozymandias, he is likely to get his pyramid anyway — even if it requires Parliament to pass a special law overriding the courts.

The $143 million museum project, run by the Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation, a legally separate entity from LVMH, would be Mr. Gehry’s second project in Paris. The first, built more than 15 years ago, sat empty for 9 years and then was turned into the Cinémathèque Française. While that building is considered tame in its urban setting, this newer one will stand out in the park, inescapable — with a bent glass roof, like an enormous 150,000-square-foot dress flowing over the simple walls beneath. Much of the art, which belongs to Mr. Arnault and LVMH, is worthy; the museum itself, being built with no public funds on concessionary land from the city of Paris, will revert to the city in 55 years.

The group that seeks to block the museum — and that received a court order on Jan. 20 annulling the museum’s 2007 building permit — is hardly representative of Paris’s huddled poor. It is a neighborhood association in a wealthy neighborhood, bordering one of the city’s loveliest parks and playgrounds.

The group, known as the Coordination for the Protection of the Bois de Boulogne and its Surroundings, has a simple argument: the park is intended for the public, the museum is next to a children’s playground, and the building itself violates the rules governing the park by blocking a paved roadway that should be open to the public. In addition, they say, the 150-foot-high building violates height requirements by cleverly using an architectural subterfuge, creating split-level mezzanines inside that are not formally “floors,” to get around a legal restriction banning buildings higher than two floors.

François Douady, 74, who heads the association, founded in 2003, has contempt for what he considers legal distortion. “The architectural study that led to the permit is a completely erroneous interpretation of the law,” he said.

The court ruling, which focused on the roadway, nonetheless annulled the building permit with the museum half-finished. All work other than that needed to stabilize and secure the site had to stop, putting the jobs of 400 workers on hold.

The park is owned by the city of Paris, and its mayor, the Socialist Bertrand Delanoë, strongly supports the project. The city appealed the court decision, but the appeal could take between one and two years.

So Mr. Arnault and Mr. Delanoë, who have deep political contacts, have instead turned to Parliament to pass a law overriding the court’s decision and giving an exemption to the museum.

Last week, the Senate passed the exemption as a sudden amendment to the second reading of a law on digital books. The Socialist Party joined with the ruling Union for a Popular Movement to support the bill. Only a small radical left group voted no, saying that the legislature should stay out of the business of the courts. The lower house, the National Assembly, is expected to approve the measure sometime in April, after its own hearings.

Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand approved of the action, calling the museum “of major cultural interest.”

But Mr. Douady calls the legal bypass of the court “totally scandalous,” saying that “this legislative rider rode on a horse that has absolutely nothing to do with the Louis Vuitton project.” He also complained that anyone opposed to the project was “immediately accused of being a philistine, someone who doesn’t know anything about art.”

As if to oblige Mr. Douady’s assertion, Jean Nouvel, a famous French architect and friend of Mr. Gehry recently told Journal du Dimanche that opponents “show a blind and pernicious individualism that goes against the general interest. They oppose any change for the sake of it. In their tight little suits, they want to put Paris in formaldehyde. It’s quite pathetic.”

Mr. Nouvel described Mr. Gehry as “appalled, shocked and angry,” and worried about the delay.

Paris’s deputy mayor, Anne Hidalgo, accused Mr. Douady’s group of “defending class interests, a collection of special interests against the public interest,” apparently represented by Mr. Arnault’s museum. But Mr. Douady, continuing the theme of class warfare, accused the Socialist mayor of being in bed with big capital. “City Hall is very close to the great captains of industry,” he said.

Jean-Paul Claverie, an adviser to Mr. Arnault for 20 years, said the museum was intended to help construct a corporate identity for a diverse group of luxury companies, tied together by art and artisanship, especially that of France. “The idea is to create a solidarity with the world of culture and art,” he said, waving his hand, “the art of French life and culture, especially the art of our century.”

There is a soupçon of competitive pride in this story. Mr. Arnault has always had a rivalry with François Pinault, who owns another French luxury conglomerate, including the auction house Christie’s. At one time, Mr. Pinault wanted to build a museum just outside Paris for his own extraordinary collection, but gave up in 2005 in the face of bureaucratic hurdles. So Mr. Pinault took his museum to Venice instead.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/08/world/europe/08paris.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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