By  on October 26, 2007

LOS ANGELES — Louis Vuitton will open its latest "store" in downtown Los Angeles on Monday when the Museum of Contemporary Art presents a Takashi Murakami retrospective, the most comprehensive collection yet of the artist's work, comprising about 90 pieces.

Already a major player on the art scene, Murakami became a household name in 2002 when Marc Jacobs, Vuitton's artistic director, asked the artist to reinterpret the house's classic monogram handbags. The collaboration became an overnight commercial success for the house, elevating the status of "It" luxury handbags to a new level.

Within the second portion of the two-part exhibition, which features all of Murakami's merchandise in a grid-like shelving display, one room will showcase a range of the accessories that Murakami created for Vuitton.

Another "store" environment will feature new limited edition items, such as the Hands Neverfull tote, coin purses and agendas that the public can purchase while walking through the exhibit. The totes are available in three sizes, from $875 to $965; the agendas, in small and large, for $500 and $700, and coin purses are $250.

But Vuitton president Yves Carcelle stressed it's not a typical museum gift shop.

"The idea came from MOCA's chief curator, Paul Schimmel, who said, 'You were the first to put art in the store; I want to be the first one to put the store in the art,'" said Carcelle. "What artists like Takashi do inspires us, and we, in turn, inspire them. He wanted to pay homage to the work we've done together."

In contemporary art, where the installation is often as important as the artwork, the 1,000-square-foot space is appropriately stylized.

"The whole thing is very conceptual, but it is a reinterpretation of an actual Louis Vuitton store," said Carcelle. Instead of the traditional leather and wood elements, the furnishings are painted white and the walls are fitted with screens playing videos created for the exhibit.

The company said it has created enough merchandise to last until the close of the exhibition on Feb. 11, but it might not be taking into account the number of fashion fans in Los Angeles who have been planning to buy the items for months."Murakami's collaboration with Louis Vuitton is unique in the annals of fashion," said MOCA director Jeremy Strick. "And he is unique among artists in that he wants to occupy every point in the spectrum. Here is someone who has created numerous limited edition objects with mass appeal that sell for very little, and at the opposite end, has paintings and sculptures in the most prestigious galleries in the world that sell for seven figures."

Hitting the space in between high fashion and the luxury market was a critical moment in Murakami's career as well as pop culture, noted Strick.

"To take something like the LV logo that stands for a certain tradition and make people look at it again by creating something new and dazzling was a brilliant design," he said. "And there have been relatively few artists whose work can fit into the demands and constraints of the fashion industry. In that way, he's breaking new ground, and I don't know of anyone comparable at this point."

Louis Vuitton's relationship with the arts began when the Vuittons themselves became friends with the Impressionist painters in Paris in the late 1800s. Recently, the house has experimented with various collaborations in its stores with artists such as Olafur Eliasson, James Turrell, Ugo Rondinone, Bob Wilson and Teresita Fernández. While those collaborations involved elevators, windows and store installations, collaborations on the merchandise, such as the latest collection of bags with Richard Prince, affect the bottom line more directly.

"If you have an artist who collaborates with the product itself, then yes, the payoff can be extraordinary," said Carcelle. "The Murakami bags were not only a coup in one season, but have become a founding statement for the house, like the Damier canvas that was invented in 1888 or the monogram canvas in 1896. In 2002, this monogram became part of a new vocabulary.

"Anything you do touching art, especially with a commercial company, is a way of developing awareness and emotion for a brand and increasing store traffic and sales."

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