Daniel Buren: The Observatory of Light

the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris, France.

July 2016
Before the Fondation Louis Vuitton's inauguration in October 2014, Daniel Buren told Frank Gehry that he had an idea for an in situ artwork. “I had a proposal from Daniel Buren to paint all of the glass in stripes and colours,” said the American architect at the time, adding, “I told him that he couldn't do it for the first show but he will do it.” Fast forward 19 months, and Buren's dream has come true. He has “painted” a faceted rainbow onto the Gehry-designed foundation in the Bois de Boulogne in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris. This has been achieved by placing coloured panels onto its 12 sails.
The French artist, who has been making in situ works, or artistic interventions, since the 1960s, was given a “carte blanche”. Buren selected 13 colours (magenta, emerald, royal blue, amber...) that enliven the complexity of Gehry's billowing sails, that from a distance recall the masts of a ship. Coloured panels have been placed onto alternate panes of glass while some of the transparent panes feature his 8.7cm white stripes – a “visual tool” that he has been using since the beginning of his career when he discovered a striped fabric at Marché St Pierre in Montmartre. The installation was an immense undertaking, which took five weeks to complete.
The perception of Buren's intervention changes according to the weather and the intensity of the light. Not only does it accentuate Gehry's architecture, but it emphasizes its geometry and connects with the use of colour in Louis Vuitton's fashion collections.
The Observatory of Light can be experienced in two ways: from the exterior by passers-by and, in a more intimate way, on the building's terraces. As the light casts coloured shadows onto the terraces and the columns, the explosion of colour is rich and varied in tonalities. As Suzanne Pagé, curator of the Fondation Louis Vuitton says in the video, “Daniel Buren was fascinated by the terraces and thought it would make a powerful dialogue.”
Indeed, far from being intimated by Gehry's angular architecture, Buren – one of France's most successful artists – recognised it as an “exceptional tool” with which he could create something strong.
Buren also made three brightly coloured, circular huts, located just outside the foundation, for performances of a new circus show on 2nd, 3rd and 4th June 2016. Titled 3 times another Hut, the temporary event was part of BurenCirque – a multidisciplinary project dating back to the early 2000s which Buren developed with circus creators Dan and Fabien Demuynck.
images by Iwan Baan for Fondation Louis Vuitton