Fondation Louis Vuitton from brand sponsorship to institution building

Photo: Iwan Baan

Photo: Iwan Baan

Claire Staebler, the associate curator at the Louis Vuitton Foundation, shares her reflections on China’s private art museums after co-curating the exhibition “Bentu” with UCCA in Beijing last year. Before that, Claire worked with the Palais de Tokyo and Fondation d’entreprise Ricard on multiple exhibitions, which represented the new model of brand-involved art projects that she sees as the trend of our time.

While you were doing research in China, I imagine you learned something about the private museum scene here. Can you speak to the differences between a private museum in the Chinese sense and the FLV as a private museum?

During our research trips in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou we had the chance to see different art spaces, art centers, and private museums. It was very interesting to discover these spaces and projects with specific programs and identities: UCCA, of course, but also Red Brick, Yuz, K11, Long Museum. It is difficult to compare these projects, connected as they are to a specific context, audience, culture, and history, to the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris, which makes sense in the French and European landscapes. I do feel that I learned a lot from the Times Museum, which I found very inspiring in the way they are articulating exhibitions with local and international artists.

Working at FLV, is there a sense that there is a difference between a museum funded by a brand or conglomerate of brands and a private philanthropist or a public institution? How would you compare your work here or at Fondation d’entreprise Ricard with your work at Palais de Tokyo?

Each institution and experience for me has been quite specific, and the goals and expectations of the Palais de Tokyo were different from those at the FLV. When I started at the Palais de Tokyo, in 2000, the world of art was more confidential, in a way, and Paris didn’t have the strong scene of galleries, fairs, and foundations that it does today. The main difference in my mind is that, at the Foundation, we are dealing with a collection that is very central to our work. Neither the Palais de Tokyo nor the Ricard foundation has a collection.

What does it mean for art that many of our greatest museums are associated with brands?

This is the zeitgeist! In Paris, the Galeries Lafayette Foundation is due to open next year, as is the Pinault Foundation, and I think that agnès b. will open a new space as well. In a way, the Fondation Cartier probably invented this model, as they have been active since the 1980s.  Of course, there is the consideration that there is some mixing of interests occurring, but, when you realize that all the public institutions get support from the same private brands to make their own programs, there are ultimately the same problems in many ways.