A new exhibition of Louis Vuitton luggage and handbags at the National Museum of China in Tiananmen Square is getting off to a flying start, proving offensive on both artistic and patriotic grounds.
Having begun yesterday and running until the end of August, the ‘Louis Vuitton-Voyages‘ show is only the National Museum’s second major exhibition since reopening after a three-year renovation, and the first time the museum has partnered up with a commercial brand. The show reportedly stresses the historical association Louis Vuitton has had with travel, something apparently all the kids are into these days.
Now, for those trying to get on their high horse about ‘dignified cultural gravitas’ and the like, Shanghai Daily reports that there is indeed artistic merit behind the decision:
Chen Lusheng, vice director of the museum, told the website that he understood visitors’ reactions towards the LV exhibition as it was the first time that the museum had held an exhibition of a commercial brand.
“But compared with 157-year-old fashion brand LV, our museum – which is still to have its 100th anniversary – is still young,” Chen told the Beijing News. Chen said LV had many original designs that had affected the history of travel and “represented art and emotions.”
An LV official told the website that although the company had paid high expenses for the exhibition, he believed it was worth the money. The exact sum spent was not disclosed.
However intertwined the relationship might be between art and luxury, with its sponsorship agreements and exhibitions like the traveling Lady Dior show currently at Shanghai’s Plaza 66, the LV show crosses the line by insinuating a consumerist aesthetic into a museum intended to represent the whole of Chinese culture.
The backlash against the show follows other recent cases of hallowed institutions being threatened in similar ways, with plans for a Forbidden City millionaires’ club and a building named after Jeanswest at Tsinghua University both being shelved after facing intense public criticism.
Then again, the people who buy the most art are probably using their Louis Vuitton wallets and handbags to store the credit cards that pay for it. And Louis Vuitton bags have proven to be number 2 on the list of China’s most-wanted physical objects, if you go by how long people will wait in line outside a store for something (the number 1 spot of course belongs to you-know-what).
And given that the National Museum is bereft of real substance anyway, with the Cultural Revolution mentioned in only one photograph and three lines of text, something as egregious as an LV exhibition seems only fitting.