Louis Vuitton vs Francois Pinault Fondation: when business meets pleasure

Louis Vuitton Fondation

Bernard Arnault and Francois Pinault’s rivalry since the the late 90’s and the fight for Gucci falls nowhere  short of legendary status. When both of these giants invest so heavily into the opening of the Louis Vuitton Fondation (circa 300Meur,2014, Paris) and the Francois Pinault Fondation comprising the Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana(circa 70M eur, 2006 and 2009, Venise) can it be called a pure ego feud or is something else at play?

The amount of time and money invested as well as numerous report about the passion of these two men leave no doubt as to the authenticity of their philantropic intentions.  But couldn’t this phenomenon of corporate sponsorship of contemporary art be killing two birds with one stone?

Palazzo Grassi

When a brand name like Louis Vuitton fetches a piece such as the Scream while the Pompidou museum’s retrospective of its author Edvard Munch is snubbed, the opportunity given by increased sponsorship in these times of crisis are balanced by a sense of precaution towards this mix of money and art.

The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893
The Scream, Edvard Munch

Historically such worries can sound like nonsense as all major museums and masterpieces were commisioned by private individuals.  Nevertheless with the abolition of privileges and the secularization of society, the last two centuries have been marked by an art world “of the people, by the people, and for the people”.
The American model of private museums has been counterbalanced by the Continetal state sponsored museums approach.

Olafur Eliasson for Fondation Louis Vuitton
Olafur Eliasson for Fondation Louis Vuitton

As the art market is marked by a relatively inelastic supply of goods,  increased global wealth and inequality in the past 30 years has spurred a very substantial increase in demand resulting in out of control prices.  These museums could further alienate the public from the comtemporary art world by illustrating the mix of art and money in times of inequality or may instead boost the brand’s images by celebrating them as purveyors of core values.
This phenomenon is at the heart of our investigation as the luxury and art consumers consumers recoup themselves at the top of the wealth pyramid. Both the luxury market and the art auction boom have mirrored histories.

Francois Pinault is one of  the world’s largest collectors of comtemporary art and owns Christie’s auction house purchased in 1998 for 1.2 billion euros.  A pure self-made man he has progressively left control of PPR (now Kering)  to his elder son Francois-Henri Pinault during the 2000’s in order to commit himself fully to his passion for art.

Takashi Murakami at Palazzo Grassi
Takashi Murakami at Palazzo Grassi

Bernard Arnault on the other hand is a much more recent actor having made his first abstract art purchase in 2001 ( Ellsworth Kelly works).  He took over control of Phillips, the third largest auction house in the world, sold after a few years with heavy losses.

Ellsworth Kelly at Fondation Louis Vuitton

In terms of branding one museum is named after the flagship brand of the group while the other has the name of it’s patron.  There exists a Kering corporate foundation catered towards combating violence against women.

rvb_kering_foundation_20cm_0 By taking all these factors into consideration we can view Pinault’s initiative as more of a personal testament while Arnault wishes to mix his philantropic activities while rightfully wanting to promote the image of his brand.
As the luxury and art worlds collide in this clash of titans we are reminded of Andy Warhol’s prophetic words “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”



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