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PARIS — How do you spell Louis Vuitton?
Well, if you’re artist Vanessa Beecroft, with a gaggle of naked ladies bent into the shape of letters.
Photographed in her New York studio, the fleshy alphabet will be unveiled tonight at the new Espace Louis Vuitton, a permanent, 4,300-square-foot cultural space atop the world’s largest Vuitton store on the Champs-Elysées here.
Open to the public Monday through Saturday, free of charge, Espace will feature rotating exhibitions around themes close to the luxury brand: travel, art, fashion and heritage. “It’s not a contemporary art gallery,” stresses Marie-Sabine Leclercq, Vuitton’s director of communication, whose department will manage the project. Indeed, it boasts an independent entrance around the corner at 60 Rue de Bassano — although shoppers can be whisked up from the boutique in a sensory deprivation elevator designed by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson.
The gallery, an array of airy, sprawling rooms that also includes a dramatic corner rotunda, has been designed for maximum flexibility to accommodate everything from readings and conferences to live performances.
Vuitton has already mapped out its lineup for 2006. It includes an exhibition devoted to India, another to outerspace (with 100 never-before-seen photos just purchased from NASA), a retrospective of the Louis Vuitton Cup sailing race and an “icon” exhibition, in which various artists will reinterpret famous Vuitton leather goods from the past 150 years.
The Beecroft exhibit, which runs through March 31, also features a video and other photographs related to performance pieces orchestrated in October in tandem with the store’s grand opening, at which Beecroft arranged the women next to luggage on shelves in the central atrium — and had them stand in formation at a gala party.
As for her human alphabet, Beecroft says she was inspired by an old magazine she found at a thrift shop. Her intention with the Vuitton version was for the women to look “like the pilasters of Italian Renaissance balconies.”
Still, as eye-popping as the photos are, they compete for attention with stunning panoramic views of Paris from the gallery’s seventh-floor perch.
Beecroft is expected to attend the opening party tonight along with the actors Isabelle Huppert and Romain Duris.