Designer Handbags as Art? Louis Vuitton Thinks So

Classic designer Louis Vuitton has become interested in a new sector of the luxury market: contemporary art. And the impact of the brand’s shift has been felt from Hong Kong to Boston.

Its conglomerate, LVMH, has swallowed entire prestige industries. If you want to pop bottles in a club, the holding company owns Moet et Chandon, Dom Perignon, Krug and Veuve Clicquot. If you want something less bubbly, it also owns Glenmorangie and Belvedere. On the luxury fashion side, it owns Fendi, Donna Karan, Givenchy, Marc Jacobs, Celine, and Bulgari. Its presence stretches to your local mall, in which it owns Sephora.

It’s completely understandable that this behemoth is throwing its weight around in the art world, the ultimate luxury industry. Aside from its collaborations with famed artists such as Takashi Murakami and Richard Prince, the LV has been willing to take radical steps to emphasize its clout in this arena.

Richard Prince's Louis Vuitton wrap in Hong Kong

It controversially sold Takashi Murakami-designed LV bags during Murakami’s show at the Los Angeles Museum of Art’s Murakami show. Its 2009 Louis Vuitton: A Passion for Creation show at the Hong Kong Museum of Art included draping the museum’s exterior with a gigantic Richard Prince work with LV monograms scattered all over it. The HK show was especially controversial because it showed LV’s private collection using government funds – increasing the works’ value without necessarily benefiting the government.

Elsewhere, Louis Vuitton’s impact is more subtle: Louis Vuitton is one of the largest sponsors for Brooklyn artist Swoon’s site-specific installation in Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art. Though I haven’t seen Anthropocene Extinction, I’ve seen Swoon’s work before and it’s awe-inspiring. Her intricate paper cut-outs are ethereal and seemingly ephemeral, and regardless of the sponsor, it’s a coup for the ICA to be showing one of her works.

Still, it’s a bit weird that all the talks about this work have been branded “Louis Vuitton Art Talks.” Likewise, in other shows LV has been involved in “Louis Vuitton” is a common motif throughout – in Hong Kong, the company’s steamer trunks were some of the “artworks” in the show.

With other giant luxury corporations, most notably fierce LVMH competitor PPR (owners of Gucci Group) trying to shoehorn their way into the art world, what are your thoughts on this? Is a great luxury branding exercise or a sketchy corporate shadow in museums?

Ashley Lee I'm a recent grad (Wellesley '11!) trying to break into the art world. When I'm not reading, writing, or tweeting about the contemporary art world, I like shoes, soccer, and Star Wars. Like Liz Lemon, I list things in threes.

View all posts by Ashley Lee

One Response to “Designer Handbags as Art? Louis Vuitton Thinks So”

  1. Kayla Brown

    The bottom line is it’s all fun and games but someone’s gotta pay the bills. If it wasn’t LVMH it would be some sketchy corporation sent on world domination. If Theraflu became a sponsorer and somehow worked their print ads into shows as part of the “installation” that would be an entirely different story. Just because you take your speedy bag to Starbucks and you throw your credit cards and tampons in there doesn’t mean these beautiful handbags aren’t works of art.

    Art collecting isn’t a cheap hobby, and people who can afford to buy luxury products are a lot more likely to be at these events. The tradeoff is that we (the little people) have access to artists like Swoon that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. In my opinion, everybody wins.

    Great article, per usual Miss Lee. Keep up the good work!


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