When Frank Gehry designed the building that would become the Fondation Louis Vuitton, he wanted it to look like a ship at full mast, the rounded structure resembling wind-blown sails. As you approach the building from any end of the Jardin d’Acclimation in Paris, you can almost feel the movement within the architecture, and the effect is stunning.
Even more stunning is what’s currently being shown inside the Fondation, two monumental expositions of the exceptional artists Egon Schiele and Jean-Michel Basquiat. While these artists are separated by countries and generations, they were both essential players in the world of contemporary art. The juxtaposition of many of their works through dual exhibitions allows visitors to put the evolution of contemporary art into perspective. Even more so, these artists share similar histories of personal difficulties, high-profile mentors (Klimt for Schiele, Warhol for Basquiat), and a belief in a higher purpose of art. In addition, they both died tragically young.
Egon Schiele was born in Austria in 1890. He attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, but dropped out after three years due to a dislike of the rigidity and conservative teaching style. Schiele and several former students of the Academy formed the Nekunstgruppe, which was a group dedicated to contemporary work. His early work was largely focused on the eroticism of the human body. The material was considered offensive by much of the larger public and Schiele was met with resistance from critics and academics. He was even briefly imprisoned for works considered ‘pornographic.’ As time went on, however, his work matured and grappled with subjects such as death, rebirth and religion. Sadly, Schiele succumbed to the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918, along with nearly 20,000,000 others at the time. He was only 28 years old. In the nearly 12 years of his active career, Schiele was able to produce close to 300 paintings and thousands of drawings, an incredible prolific output.
Of the 110 Schiele works at the fondation, I enjoyed Schiele’s drawings and watercolors the most. His draftsmanship has incredible vitality and he has an uncanny ability to capture movement and dynamism on paper. The paintings shown were much bleaker and less magnetic, rendered in dark palettes of browns and greens. His watercolors, most especially one of the dancer ‘Moa’ from 1911, are vibrant and captivating, bringing life and movement to the rendered figures.
Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in 1960 in Brooklyn, New York and spent the majority of his career working from Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Basquiat, like Schiele, had traditional artistic training before dropping out of High School at the age of 17. By the time he turned 20, Basquiat was already establishing himself as a serious voice among New York contemporary artists. His star rose quickly, and within a few years Basquiat was exhibiting at Larry Gagosian’s West Hollywood gallery and being featured in the Whitney Museum’s Biennial. His paintings were selling for tens of thousands of dollars and he was collaborating with Andy Warhol on a series of paintings, several of which were featured at the exhibit. His death by overdose in 1988 was a tragic end to the infinitely promising career of this young artist.
The exhibit at Louis Vuitton follows the artist’s career chronologically through 135 individual pieces of art. The galleries at the foundation are incredible forums in which to view Basquiat’s paintings, monumental works in a monumental space. The high ceilings and open space lend perfectly to the tremendous size of many of Basquiat’s works. His compositions were often aimed at combatting racial stereotypes, social and economic injustices, and frequently depict a focus on death and dying. The foundation did an incredible job of bringing together some of the artist’s most recognized and celebrated works, as well as many lesser-known paintings and drawings. As I walked around, I was struck by how many works had been lent from private collections. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see such a comprehensive assortment of Basquiat’s creations in one place. And perhaps the only opportunity in our lifetime to see many of these privately owned works. I cannot recommend it enough.
To buy tickets in advance (highly encouraged!!): https://billetterie.fondationlouisvuitton.fr/billet-fondation-jean-michel-basquiat-egon-schiele-expo-css5-fondationlouisvuitton-pg51-ei610835.html