There are treasures in every corner of the new Louis Vuitton exhibit on Rodeo Drive. Some vie for attention. Others lie discreetly out of sightlines, confident of being sought out. Though grand in title, the show is intimate in its appeal. Indeed, “200 Trunks, 200 Visionaries: The Exhibit,” calls to each visitor differently.
Unveiled in December at Vuitton’s historic residence in Asnières-sur-Seine, France, the exhibit traveled to Singapore in April. It arrived at 468 North Rodeo Drive last week, opening to the public on July 29. “200 Trunks, 200 Visionaries: The Exhibit” will remain in residence there until Sept. 6. Its provocative nature and sheer scope will no doubt inspire repeat visits.
The exhibit’s raison d’être is simple: a celebration of the anniversary of the birth of Louis Vuitton. The Parisian luggage maker was born to humble circumstances in France 200 years ago. Today, the Maison bearing his name anchors a global empire and is synonymous with audacity and innovation. Who better then to populate the birthday party than a guest list of the world’s top visionaries? Two hundred of them were invited to conjure up their own version of the iconic Vuitton trunk created in the 1850s.
The result is as striking as one would expect.
“200 Trunks 200 Visionaries: The Exhibit” is a carnival funhouse for grown-ups, complete with dark passages, flashing images, a room filled with balloons and a bit of sensory overload. It’s a voyage back and forth in time as seen through the lens of mainstream icons and disrupters from the arts, sciences and activism. Pop culture co-exists with street culture, skateboard culture and hip-hop in the show, befitting a brand that constantly reinvents itself.
Armed with a work space of roughly 50 x 50 x 100 centimeters (the size of the Vuitton trunk), participants produced finished products that include the whimsical (a Lego-created birthday cake trunk at the entrance); the futuristic (Willo Perron’s aluminum robot trunk); the elegantly simple (Nigo’s beautifully wrapped trunk “package”); the contemplative (Gloria Steinheim’s ode to a life spent traveling for causes); the shocking (Ben Ditto’s glowing cholera bacteria eating itself from the inside out) and the refreshingly silly (the history of the world as told by The Simpsons).
Special rooms showcase the above-mentioned (resin) balloon-festooned trunk from L.A.’s own Robert Moy of the Brooklyn Balloon Company. Another room is dedicated to Frank Gehry’s birthday “tea party in a trunk,” featuring Alice in Wonderland-inspired participants that look eerily like voodoo dolls.
The majority of the trunks are displayed on two main levels of the exhibit. On the ground floor, visitors enter past a giant robot sculpture composed of (what else?) trunks and then pass through a darkened room dedicated to a “magic box” trunk paneled in digital screens.
The first major display area is a warehouse-like space housing dozens of trunks stacked artistically atop each other. The notion that each work is the brainchild of a prominent creator with its own unique backstory can be overwhelming to the first-time visitor. While QR codes can be scanned to reveal information about the works, not all of the codes are easy to access. A better idea is to study the extensive exhibit website ahead of time (https://louis200.com). There, a list of the 200 participants, with an explanation of their artistic process and inspiration (many with videos), awaits. The advance homework will pay off, making encounters with the real-life works of art more meaningful.
Moving on past the warehouse room and the aforementioned Brooklyn Balloon Company room, visitors will climb up a stairway adorned with the same distinctive light grey and orange stripe that appears in the windows of the building. The pattern is meant to evoke an early motif of the Vuitton trunks. It leads to the “Dreamscape” level, housing some of the most imaginative and complex pieces, including British magician Dynamo’s trick of embedding a trunk in a huge glass bottle. A traveling trunk affixed to a mini hot air balloon is the entry from multimedia artist KidSuper, while the South Korean group BTS chose to personalize their trunk with panels of messages.
Dog lovers will be drawn to “Monster’s Playhouse,” an elaborate dog house in a trunk by Derek Blasberg, while devotees of Southern California car culture will appreciate the “Lowrider Trunk” by Be Good Studios.
After wandering through the Dreamscape level, one last room holds a jukebox built in a trunk, the brainchild of British DJ and producer, Benji B. The jukebox really works and can play 200 specially-selected tracks. It’s a fitting coda to an exhibit that “has always been about creativity,” said Faye McLeod, Louis Vuitton’s Visual Image Director.
Of course, the exhibit is also about connecting the past and the present. To that end, one of the most poignant entries is on display unobtrusively on the first floor. It is from the Asnières Maison de Famille, the Louis Vuitton ancestral home and workshop. It is a trunk embellished with an image of the Vuitton family home that invokes an Impressionist painting. It seems hard to imagine, but in the 1860s when Vuitton ran a successful luggage shop in Paris, the group of young artists who founded the Impressionist movement were beginning to shake up the art establishment. Eventually, they created a new way to see the world.
Vuitton, in his own way, did exactly the same thing.
“200 Trunks, 200 Visionaries: The Exhibit” runs through Sept. 6.
468 North Rodeo Drive,
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m. 8 p.m.
Sun. 11 a.m. 8 p.m.