François Pinault has abandoned plans to build a contemporary museum in Paris. Will his arch rival do it instead?

Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH, has hired Canadian architect Frank Gehry to produce designs for a new museum



The Canadian architect Frank Gehry has been hired by Bernard Arnault, chairman of the luxury goods group LVMH, to produce designs for a new museum in Paris. If the project goes forward, the new museum would house works from the French billionaire’s contemporary art collection.

These revelations follow the recent decision by Christie’s chairman and Mr Arnault’s arch-rival, François Pinault to abandon plans to open a contemporary art museum on the Ile Seguin in Paris and instead show his collection in the Palazzo Grassi in Venice in which Mr Pinault recently bought a controlling share.

According to reports in the French press, Mr Arnault began drawing up plans for his new museum in the 19th-century children’s park known as the Jardin d’acclimatation in the western Bois de Boulogne district of Paris early last year.

The businessman, who is known to have acquired works by Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Serra, Maurizio Cattelan and Doug Aitken, reportedly approached Mr Gehry this year with specifications for the new museum. The proposed 25-metre high, 600 square-metre building is set to replace the Musée national des arts et traditions populaires which is already in the Jardin d’acclimatation. The institution is scheduled to close this autumn.

A spokesman for Mr Gehry confirmed that the architect is “working on the design of a small museum under contract to LVMH”.

Mr Arnault is also believed to have commissioned 12 contemporary artists—Daniel Buren, Dan Graham, Michael Heizer, Damien Hirst, Anish Kapoor, Tadashi Kawamata, Jeff Koons, Claude Lévêque, Claes Oldenburg, Richard Serra, James Turrell and Xavier Veilhan—to make new sculptures to go on display in the 20-hectare park site.

According to a report in Le Monde, however, the Paris-based architect in overall charge of the scheme, Patrick Bouchain, was told earlier this year that the project had been shelved.

Not so, says Peter Freeman, a New York gallery owner who represents Michael Heizer. Speaking to The Art Newspaper, Mr Freeman said that plans for the new museum in the Jardin are still on track.

“The project has not stalled. Michael Heizer has been commissioned by LVMH in Paris to make a large outdoor piece for the Jardin d’acclimatation. The plans are still very much in development, it is all entirely preliminary but more proposal meetings will take place this fall”, he said.

A spokesman for the city council, which owns the park and leased the space to LVMH in 1995 for a period of 20 years, also confirmed that “discussions are underway on the project but LVMH has not yet applied for a building permit” for the museum. Officials at LVMH declined to comment.

Head to head

The battle between the luxury goods giants, led by Mr Pinault (far left) and Mr Arnault (left), began in 1999 when François Pinault bought a 42% stake in Gucci, cutting Bernard Arnault’s share in the Italian fashion company. Mr Pinault’s company, Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, then fought Mr Arnault’s LVMH through the Dutch courts for overall control of Gucci. In 2004, Mr Pinault bought up the majority stock under the terms of a contract signed in 2001. Mr Pinault bought Christie’s in 1998 for £721 million ($1.3 billion) while Mr Arnault sold his controlling interest in the auction house Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg in 2002 which he acquired in 1999.