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Chanel’s Mobile Art Pavilion Settles in Paris

Zaha Hadid-designed structure donated to Arab World Institute as site for contemporary exhibitions.

Rendering of  Zaha Hadid's pavilion for Chanel

PARIS — Mobile Art — the otherworldly exhibition pavilion Chanel christened in March 2008 and sidelined only nine months into its two-year global tour — has come to rest permanently in the French capital.

This story first appeared in the October 14, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Chanel has donated the Zaha Hadid-designed structure to the Arab World Institute, the Jean Nouvel-designed museum here, which plans to make it a showcase for contemporary art exhibitions.

“We’ll have a strong visibility in Paris with this building,” Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel fashion, told WWD. “It will give people an opportunity to see something new.”

Workers will soon begin mounting the gleaming white 7,500-square-foot structure in the plaza in front of the metal-and-glass Nouvel building, uniting the works of two winners of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize. Iraqi-born Hadid was the laureate in 2004; Nouvel, a Frenchman, in 2008.

The first exhibition — dedicated to Hadid’s oeuvre — is slated to open in late March 2011, with Chanel and the museum co-hosting an event. Pavlovsky declined to comment on the value of its gift.

Hadid said the donation “offers many exciting possibilities for groundbreaking exhibitions in the center of Paris; a truly unique opportunity for the unknown and untested, and for new technologies and media to be explored — a catalyst for the instigation and exchange of ideas.”

Conceived by Karl Lagerfeld with Hadid, the Mobile Art “contemporary art container” debuted in Hong Kong and traveled to Tokyo and New York, showcasing 15 contemporary artists — from Daniel Buren to Yoko Ono — who created works inspired by Chanel’s iconic 2.55 handbag. The toroidal building, while reminiscent of the Starship Enterprise or a UFO, has a gridlike surface that vaguely evokes the bag’s quilted surface.

The project was mothballed after its Manhattan leg amid the spiraling economic crisis — and sharp criticism of its splashy nature. It had been meant to travel to Los Angeles, London, Moscow and Paris.

Chanel estimates about 100,000 people toured the Hadid pavilion in 2008.

Pavlovsky said a plaque would denote the Chanel donation, but that art programming would be in the hands of the Arab World Institute, which mounts a variety of exhibitions about Arabic culture and civilization.

The popular site, located on the Seine River just upstream from Notre Dame, also boasts a library, auditorium and rooftop restaurant. It welcomes roughly a million visitors a year.