So when Galeries Lafayette department store in France decided to launch Lafayette Anticipations, it focused on the idea of enabling artists to produce projects on site. “Paris was a bit saturated,” Guillaume Houzé, president of Lafayette Anticipations and Galeries Lafayette's director of image and communication, says about the city's art scene in 2012.
“The idea of production is an essential element of the project that we want to put into place,” adds Houzé, whose father is president of the Galeries Lafayette group. Houzé's dream, which he realised thanks to hiring François Quintin as the foundation's director, has now been realised. Located near the Centre Pompidou, Lafayette Anticipations is housed in a 19th century former warehouse of the nearby BHV department store, which is part of the Galeries Lafayette group.
The transversal building, which has entrances on either side, has been transformed by OMA/Rem Koolhaas into a venue spanning 2,200m2 with 1,000m2 of exhibition space. A vegan restaurant on the ground floor can be used by visitors without them needing to buy tickets to view the exhibitions.
This is OMA's first project in the French capital and, as a cultural venue, follows on from the OMA-designed Fondazione Prada in Milan and the Concrete arts centre in Dubai. Once again, OMA has brought a degree of modularity and flexibility to the programme thanks to the integration of a slender glass, 19m-high “exhibition tower”. As Houzé says, “There are four mobile [exhibition] platforms – each can go up and down vertically to multiply usages and potential [for artists to present works].” As many as 49 different configurations are possible, rendering the graceful yet underwhelming project, which blends subtly with the surrounding Haussmannien architecture, pretty high-tech.
In the basement is a 400m2 production area where artists can collaborate with artisans; however the venue houses no permanent collection. “It's not a sanctuary to show a collection, it's above all a work place for artists and a place for living, exchange and meeting,” says Houzé, who collects art and launched the Lafayette Sector of galleries at the FIAC – France's international contemporary art fair.
For the inaugural solo exhibition, the American artist Lutz Bacher has created a multi-media project titled 'The Silence of the Sea'. Bacher went to Cap Ferret near Bordeaux where she recorded the sounds of waves, which greet visitors as they climb the staircase. A video work shows the sea and images of abandoned blockhouses, or disused military structures. A trail of glimmering dust ascends to the top floor where it covers the floor, while blue-tinted film stuck onto the glass creates a subdued filtering of the light. Bacher has a site-specific method and “works with what she finds”, says Quintin. “For us this reason, it resonates with how the first ready-made in history was bought at BHV: the famous bottle rack by Marcel Duchamp was acquired at BHV in 1913,” he philosophises.