Tuesday, 21 February 2017




When I saw this video on Nowness, featuring Lil Buck dancing in the Fondation Louis Vuitton, I heaved a sigh because I had to write on it because there is a big fashion name over the door but not a garment in sight. 

 screenshot from Lil Buck at the Icons Of  Modern Art: The Shchukin Collection 
on display at the Fondation Louis Vuitton (source)
I had no idea how this would end up back with garments in museums. I think I get there eventually. This ends up being in a similar vein to my Met Gala piece back in the summer, but one more level removed. Mostly I end up with how museums fit into this larger world of lifestyle marketing. But first, lets start with a roll call of all the moving players in this video.

The video is also a beautiful deconstruction on motion.
It actually breaks down Cubism in a very poetic way. (source)
Andrew Margetson directed the short. He looks like he primarily directs commercial spots on UK television although he’s done more lyrical work for Nowness previously. Lil Buck, the subject of the short, is an American dancer that blends classical ballet with contemporary jookin. He goes into his own history in the video, so I’ll let him speak for himself. Nowness, who commissioned the video, would probably be characterized as a lifestyle website. They create video content that is undeniably timely and blends film craft, arts, celebrity, and fashion into a luxurious whole. As a business entity, a cursory investigation implies they rely on marketing through email newsletters as oppose to any direct marketing on site.

Which brings us to the meatiest entity in this matrix for Sew What, the Fondation Louis Vuitton. The building is designed by Frank Gehry for the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) conglomerate. At its core, it is a private museum for the LVMH corporate art collection and Chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault's personal collection and a stunning piece of architecture on the edge of a tourist's Paris. (source)

The building has been described an iceberg
rising out of the Jardin d'Acclimatation. (source)
LVMG, as a group, controls some of the most recognized spirit labels and cosmetic companies in Europe and North America. This is in addition to their fashion subsidiaries including Celine, Christian Dior, Fendi, Givenchy, Louis Vuitton, and Marc Jacobs. I think that may account for half of the luxury shopping strip on Bloor Street. They also control the Parisian park created by Emperor Napoleon III and the Empress Eugénie, which is the new home for the Fondation Louis Vuitton. Coincidently, they also own Nowness, the website that commissioned the video that started this train of thought. (source)

So, with the circular money trail, I should probably triangulate the luxury goods brands, the international cultural website, and the art museum involved. The three have a very different purpose but, as strategic investments, they should logically benefit the parent company in some way, no?

Successful commercial brands have an obvious benefit for their owners. So, if the luxury goods sit at the centre of this landscape, the other two should support them in some way. From this vantage point, the lifestyle website begins to make sense as a marketing tool. Publicly, the LVHM content is interwoven amongst both other cultural producers (e.g. Alvin Ailey and Florence Welsh) and direct competitors (e.g. Yoji Yamamoto). Taken together, the LVHM content is an object of appreciation for a creativity lifestyle that includes art & design, fashion & beauty, music, food & travel, and culture, to directly cite Nowness's content categories. (source)

In this mode of cultural appreciation as a lifestyle, the museum, especially the design museum, aligns with the same mode of contemplation and appreciation espoused by the lifestyle brand as noted in another Nowness video shot in the Design Museum in London. (source) It can also become complicit as a space for decontextualized contemplation of the objects of culture. (Burkholder, 1986, 410) They become places where the relationship between the manufacture and consumption of objects can be ignored, including the relationship between the name on the building, the object on the wall, and the economics that put both in place. With this rather cynical view, the Fondation Louis Vuitton feels like an alignment of their commercial holdings with non-commercial art culture by putting the Louis Vuitton name next to Picasso and Gerhard Richter paintings. Explicitly, there are lofty and altruistic goals that position the Fondation Louis Vuitton as a gift to Paris. (source) But there is also the reality that they are invested in created and curating an aspirational luxury lifestyle because that keeps their goods in demand.

Coming from the opposite direction, this equivalence between luxury goods, especially luxury garments, and high culture objects is fortified by the collection development by other museums. The recent Met exhibition of recent Costume Institute acquisitions is a mixed bag of historic and contemporary garments, but includes both LVHM companies and competitors they have identified as in the same tier of aspirational lifestyle. (source, source)

So, I need a shower, feeling a bit slimy after coming out of that rabbit hole. This isn't an outright dismissal of the value of the corporate presence in cultural spaces; they are a large part of contemporary society and that should be reflected in collection development and has amazing potential for the creation and maintenance of cultural spaces. I guess this is more of a call for media literacy, and to question whose agendas are being forwarded by the seemingly free and spontaneous cultural production that characterizes this moment in time.

Works Cited
Burkholder, J. (1986) The Twentieth Century and the Orchestra as Museum in Joan Peyser (ed.) The Orchestra: Origins and Transformations. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

Elliot, H. (2011) LVMH Moves Forward With Gehry Art Museum. Forbes. Retrieved Feb. 21, 2017 from http://www.forbes.com/sites/hannahelliott/2011/03/31/lvmh-moves-forward-with-gehry-art-museum/#597026cb2d9a

Fondation Louis Vuitton (n.d) The Fondation Louis Vuitton.  Retrieved Feb 21, 2017 from http://www.fondationlouisvuitton.fr/en/la-fondation/la-fondation-d-entreprise-louis-vuitton.html

LVMH. (n.d) Houses. Retrieved Feb 21, 2017 from https://www.lvmh.com/houses/

The Metropolitan Museum. (2016) Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion [press release] Retrieved Feb 21, 2017 from http://www.metmuseum.org/press/exhibitions/2016/masterworks-unpacking-fashion

Nelson, C. (2016) The Met's Other Epic Fashion Exhibition. Hint Magazine. Retrieved Feb 21, 2017 from http://www.hintmag.com/post/unpacking-fashion-metropolitan--december-01-2016-2117

Nowness. (n.d) Nowness Home. Retrieved Feb 21, 2017 from https://www.nowness.com/

Nowness. (2016a) Lil Buck at Fondation Louis Vuitton. Andrew Margetson (dir.) Retrieved Feb 21, 2017 from https://www.nowness.com/story/fondation-louis-vuitton-lil-buck-andrew-margetson

Nowness (2016b) Fear and Love: John Pawson. Oscar Hudson (dir.) Retrieved Feb 21, 2017 from https://www.nowness.com/category/art-and-design/john-pawson-design-museum

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