Bernard Arnault’s Private Museum to Host Major Rothko Retrospective

The Tate's iconic 'Seagram Murals' will be on loan to Fondation Louis Vuitton until April of next year.

Fondation Louis Vuitton, a private art museum in Paris that houses the collection of luxury conglomerate LVMH (LVMHF) and its billionaire CEO Bernard Arnault, will be hosting the first Mark Rothko exhibition in France since 1999. With pieces on loan from institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, the temporary show will showcase Rothko’s career through 115 works.

Woman stands in museum room with two giant dark red Rothko paintings
A view of Mark Rothko’s The Seagram Murals at Tate, which will be included in the retrospective. John Phillips/Getty Images

The coming retrospective will include intimate paintings and urban landscapes from Rothko’s early career in the 1930s, opening with the artist’s only self-portrait, painted in 1936. Extending to Rothko’s 1969-1970 Cathedral, the show will also reflect on his foray into abstract expressionism in the 1940s and his well-known and warm-toned works from the 1950s.

Two major loans will star in the show, which will open this October and end in April of next year. The Rothko collection of the Phillips Collection, located in Washington, D.C., will send over its permanent “Rothko Room” to Fondation Louis Vuitton. Created in 1960 with help from the artist himself, the ensemble features works like Rothko’s red and yellow The Ochre (Ochre, Red on Red) from 1954.

A series of Rothko’s Seagram Murals will be loaned by the Tate. While the pieces were originally commissioned in 1958 for a Four Seasons restaurant in New York, Rothko decided to keep the works after he visited the restaurant himself and found the setting too luxurious. He later donated nine of the works to the Tate Gallery, which has since displayed them in its own “Rothko Room.” When the room is emptied, the Tate will reportedly be filling it with Joan Mitchell works loaned by Fondation Louis Vuitton.

In addition to works from numerous art institutions, the retrospective will include pieces loaned by Rothko’s family. The artist’s son Christopher Rothko collaborated on the show, according to head curator Suzanne Page, who in a statement described the “responsibility involved in staging a Rothko exhibition today, and of the difficulty of bringing together rare and extremely fragile works by such an essential artist.”

What else is in Fondation Louis Vuitton?

Arnault, the world’s second richest person with a net worth of $235.2 billion, has long shown an avid interest in the art world through his collaborations with artists like Takashi Murakami, Yayoi Kusama and Richard Prince. His own collection, which started with an auction purchase of a Claude Monet painting, contains pieces from high-profile artists like Damien Hirst, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Bernard Buffet. The LVMH head has even branched out into the digital realm with a growing collection of non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

Large glass building shown aerially against trees
An aerial view of Fondation Louis Vuitton on July 11, 2023. AFP via Getty Images

He opened Fondation Louis Vuitton in 2014 as a private museum (housing his own collection and that of LVMH) and stages two temporary exhibitions of modern and contemporary artwork annually. Other pieces in the museum, which is currently showing an exhibition highlighting collaborations between Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, include works by Gerhard Richter, Ellsworth Kelly and Thomas Schutte. It also offers music recitals and performances in its auditorium and runs the Open Space program, in which artists are invited to create site-specific pieces.

The museum’s grand building was designed by Frank Gehry, whom Arnault approached with plans to collaborate on the institution in 2001. By 2006, Arnault had publicly revealed his plans for Fondation Louis Vuitton, located in Paris next to the Jardin d’Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne, which he has described as “a new space that opens up a dialogue with a wide public and offers artists and intellectuals a platform for debate and reflection.”

Even though Fondation Louis Vuitton is run as a separate entity from LVMH, its relationship to the luxury conglomerate that oversees brands like Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior has led to occasional backlash. Earlier this year, the Joan Mitchell Foundation sent a cease-and-desist letter to Louis Vuitton for allegedly reproducing three of the late artist’s works in an ad campaign without permission. The images were reportedly taken at Fondation Louis Vuitton, with an exhibition of paintings from Mitchell and Monet used as a backdrop. In a case that was later dismissed, a French anti-corruption group in 2018 accused LVMH of committing tax evasion through the museum, claiming it deducted 60 percent of the institution’s construction cost from its taxes. The creation of Fondation Louis Vuitton, which was originally supposed to cost about 100 million euros ($111 million), ended up costing nearly 800 million euros ($890 million).

Bernard Arnault’s Private Museum to Host Major Rothko Retrospective