"Gauguin Painting Sells for Record Sum of Almost $300 Million" @wsj by Kelly Crow

A colorful painting of two Tahitian women by Paul Gauguin has reportedly been sold by a Swiss family foundation to a group of state museums in Qatar for nearly $300 million, a record sum for a single work of art.

The price would best the roughly $250 million that Qatar paid three years ago for Paul Cezanne’s “The Card Players,” and underscores the purchasing power and ambitions of the nation. The New York Times reported the amount and said two dealers pegged Qatar Museums as the buyer of Gauguin’s lush, 1892 double portrait, “Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?).”

Museum officials in Qatar couldn’t be reached to comment late Thursday. The Gulf nation, which surged from poverty to prosperity on the strength of its oil and gas fields, has earned a reputation in the past decade for paying top dollar to amass a world-class art collection. Some of its purchases have been displayed in its relatively new museums in Doha. Others, like the Cezanne, remain out of view.

The price of the Gauguin will likely send shock waves through a global marketplace already obsessed with touting and trading art trophies. Whether at auction or brokered privately, nothing—not even Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”—has come close to selling for as much. The price handily eclipses the current record-holder at auction, a $142.4 million Francis Bacon triptych.

The Gauguin’s seller is Rudolf Staechelin, a Sotheby’s retiree who lives in Basel, Switzerland, and oversees the Staechelin Family Trust, which includes a collection of at least 20 major Post-Impressionist works amassed by his namesake father during World War I. Mr. Staechelin confirmed to several Swiss newspapers Thursday that he sold “Nafea” but he declined to name a seller or a sale price. Reached at his home late Thursday, Mr. Staechelin declined to comment.

Mr. Staechelin’s father once served as an adviser to the Kunstmuseum Basel, where the Gauguin has hung for much of the past half-century. On Thursday, Mr. Staechelin told the newspaper Basler Zeitung he was unhappy with the way the Kunstmuseum Basel was handling its renovations.

The museum, in a statement, confirmed the sale of the painting and said it “profoundly regrets” the sale of “Nafea” and the removal of other loaned works by Mr. Staechelin from the museum, calling them “integral to our exhibitions.” The sale of the Gauguin will also be a blow to art lovers in Basel, where the painting has long been a point of pride.

It’s easy to see why: Gauguin, a brash, carefree Frenchman known for his vivid palette and lusty portraits of Tahitian women, painted “Nafea” only a year after he arrived in Tahiti. The work shows a pair of young women in a sun-drenched meadow, with mountains rising on the horizon and workers toiling in a far-off field. One woman wears traditional Tahitian garb, which includes loose, colorful fabrics, but the other one wears the prim, high-collared dress preferred by European settlers to the island. Their juxtaposition hints at a culture undergoing change, but it also marks a career-defining period in Gauguin’s oeuvre. At the time, he was able to use these portraits of appealing women to capture a seemingly exotic paradise—and to experiment with his theories about the significance of color and symbols in art. His works influenced peers such as Vincent van Gogh as well as later icons like Pablo Picasso.

Chronically short of money, Gauguin often painted on surfaces like wood and cardboard-quality canvases that haven’t held up well over time. “Nafea,” by contrast, is in excellent condition in part because it has been in a museum.

It is unclear when the Kunstmuseum will be asked to turn the painting over to its new owner. On Sunday it will be on view in a Gauguin exhibition at Basel’s Beyeler Foundation. The painting is expected to be part of an exhibit at Washington’s Phillips Collection in October.

"Heir to 10,000 Picassos Is Ready to Cash Out" @nyt by Doreen Carvajal

Heir to 10000 Picassos Is Ready to Cash OutMARSEILLE, FRANCE:  Since Marina Picasso was a child, living on the edge of poverty and lingering at the gates of a French villa with her father to plead for an allowance from her grandfather, Pablo Picasso, she has struggled with the burden of that artist's towering legacy.

When she was in her 20s and inherited the 19th-century villa, La Californie, as well as a vast trove of Picasso's art treasures, she turned the paintings to face the walls in resentment. Through 15 years of therapy, she dissected bitter family memories of her grandfather's perceived indifference and her brother's suicide. In her 2001 memoir, "Picasso: My Grandfather," she bared her pain and anger at the Picasso clan.

Now 64, Picasso acknowledges that she is expanding her rebellion by preparing to sell off many of his artworks to finance and broaden her philanthropy - aid for a pediatric hospital in Vietnam and projects in France and Switzerland benefiting the elderly and troubled teenagers.

And her unconventional sales approach is reverberating through international art markets, worried dealers and auctioneers accustomed to playing key - and lucrative - roles in the sale of renowned art. In an interview, Picasso said she would sell works privately and would judge "one by one, based on need," how many, and which, of the remaining Picasso works, of about 10,000 that she inherited, she would put up for sale.

Picasso has been regularly selling her grandfather's works for years to support herself and her charities. And since the death of her longtime dealer in 2008, she has tried various strategies in the market - auctioning two major paintings in 2013 and displaying a collection of nude drawings by her grandfather at Sotheby's in Paris last year.

But her decision to sell them on her own suggests a more aggressive effort to purge herself of her legacy. And while other Picasso heirs have occasionally sold works, Marina Picasso is the only one who seems to be "accelerating" the sale of art objects, said Enrique Mallen, an art history professor at Sam Houston State University in Texas who created the Online Picasso Project to track the art.

"It's better for me to sell my works and preserve the money to redistribute to humanitarian causes," Picasso said, speaking publicly about her new strategy for the first time while inspecting a hospital site in Marseille, where she is financing a psychiatric unit for teenagers in crisis. "I have paintings, of course, that I can use to support these projects."

The news of her unusual strategy is spreading in select circles by word of mouth, generating rumors and misinformation - including a recent tabloid report that she planned to sell off her grandfather's villa and seven major works. That is leading to speculation that she could flood the market and depress prices.

"Instead of having a dealer show them, it's been an open secret that there are works for sale and people have been asking other people if they would be interested," said John Richardson, a Picasso historian and biographer in New York. "I've been asked by odd people who tell me, 'We are in on a great deal, and Marina is selling all her stuff.'"

While bypassing dealers and auction houses in the sale of major works is not unusual, sellers going it alone can be at a disadvantage in trying to estimate the value of their own works and to vet the buyers and their source of funds. At the same time, with some auction houses increasing their fees, it can be a smart move in the end for a seller eager to make more money.

Marina Picasso, who inherited about 300 paintings among those 10,000 Picasso artworks - ceramics, drawings, etchings and sculptures are among the others - said she had not decided on the number to be sold and had no plan to put the villa on the market. But she knows which piece she will sell first: "La Famille," a 1935 portrait of a family surrounded by an arid landscape.

"It's symbolic because I was born in a great family, but it was a family that was not a family," Picasso said. By the time of his death in 1973, Pablo Picasso had created some 50,000 artworks and left behind a tangled brood of four children and eight grandchildren, as well as wives and muses, who have had a long-running battle over his estate and his legacy. Marina Picasso is the daughter of Pablo Picasso's son Paulo, and she has long kept her distance from the rest of the family. For years she was guided in her sales by Jan Krugier, a Swiss art dealer who curated and sold off many of the best works in her collection until he died in 2008.

She was disappointed, she said, by other sales routes, like a 2013 Sotheby's auction of two major paintings, including "Femme Assise en Robe Grise." The works drew $6.8 million, according to Sotheby's in Paris, but Picasso said she had expected more because buyers knew the money was going to support her charities.

Her timing is good: Last year, auction sales of Picassos were second only to those of Andy Warhol - $449 million last year in a $16.1 billion international market, according to Artnet, the New York-based art researcher.

While the sales will broaden Picasso's philanthropy, they will also help her move on from the burden of her family history, she said.

Picasso said that she had no photographs of herself with her grandfather and had none of his works until she received her inheritance. She recalled that he would fashion flowers out of paper for her, but she was never allowed to keep the trinkets.

Her father, Paulo, was the son of Picasso and his first wife, Olga Khokhlova, a Russian ballerina. Picasso said she still suffered from the memories of Paulo serving as her grandfather's chauffeur, among other lowly roles, and begging for money.

Her mother, Emiliénne, split from her father after a brief marriage and struggled with alcoholism. She relied on handouts from her ex-husband to raise Marina and her older brother, Pablito.

"I saw my father very little," Picasso said. "I didn't have a grandfather."

Her alienation from her grandfather and his entourage intensified after her brother was barred from Picasso's funeral in 1973 by the artist's second wife, Jacqueline Roque. A few days later her brother committed suicide by drinking bleach. Contributions from friends paid for Pablito's funeral, according to Marina Picasso, who supported herself then by working in a hospice for autistic and mentally ill children.

Pablo Picasso left no will when he died at 91, setting off a bitter struggle among his widow, children and grandchildren. Unexpectedly, Marina Picasso was named an heir and inherited a fifth of the estate, including the villa.

"People say I should appreciate my inheritance and I do," Picasso said, "but it is an inheritance without love."

In the end, she learned from her past.

"It was really difficult to carry this celebrated name and to have a difficult financial life," Picasso said. "I think because of it I developed my sense of humanity and my desire to help others."

Olivier Widmaier Picasso, a grandson descended from the artist's mistress Marie-Therese Walter, who published his own biography of Picasso, holds a more benign view of his grandfather's legacy. As for Marina, with whom he tangled when he tried to brand Citroen cars with Picasso's name, he said he understands her anger, but thinks it is misplaced.

"We need to be honest," he said. "Pablo Picasso was not the cause of all of this. Her mother had exclusive custody. Picasso didn't want to give money to her mother because he worried she wouldn't spend it on the children. So he paid directly for their schooling."

He said he was surprised to learn about Marina Picasso's sales approach.

"All the heirs have always worked with major dealers, like Picasso did in his life," he said. "They know the market and the buyers and work to avoid any bad moves."

In the 1970s, when the estate was split to pay off taxes, "La Famille" was considered one of the most valuable because its realistic style was so unusual, he said.

"The scale is enormous and it is obviously an important work," said James Roundell, a dealer with Simon Dickinson Fine Art in London, who says it is worth "in the millions" of dollars.

Picasso has not publicly disclosed what she hopes to earn.

Picasso, who has five children, three of them adopted from Vietnam, said that selling more of Picasso's art to expand her charities is a fitting use. In just the last year, she has donated 1.5 million euros (roughly $1.7 million) to the Hospital Foundation of Paris and France. Some went to the psychiatric emergency unit for teenagers, and Picasso also financed a project for elderly patients in long-term hospital care.

"I live now in the present," she said. "The past rests in the past. But I will never forget, never. I respect my grandfather and his stature as an artist. I was his grandchild and his heir, but never the grandchild of his heart."

"Bold Addition to Paris Skyline Gets Art to Match" @nytimes by Carol Vogel

PARIS — When it opened in October, the Louis Vuitton Foundation museum was such an audacious addition to the landscape here that all eyes were on the architecture and its creator, Frank Gehry. At the time, it seemed that the art on view — from the foundation’s collection — was little more than an afterthought, and few details were disclosed about future programs. But it turns out that Suzanne Pagé, the foundation’s artistic director, was secretly working on an exhibition of modern masterpieces to open in April with loans from institutions around the world including Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” Matisse’s “Dance” and Léger’s “Three Women (Le Grand Déjeuner).”

A lyrical confection of glass, concrete, timber and steel set on the western edge of the Bois de Boulogne, the building was the most radical design since I. M. Pei’s 26-year-old glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre. Critics called the new building a sailboat, a crystal palace, a spaceship, even a whale.

Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” circa 1910. Credit Edvard Munch, Munch Museum

“We wanted the emphasis to be on the architecture first,” said Ms. Pagé, a former director of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville in Paris.

When the $143 million building opened, many in the art world voiced disappointment that the inaugural installation included only a peek into the holdings amassed by Bernard Arnault, the chairman and chief executive of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the luxury goods conglomerate, who is a fiercely private collector. The exhibition included a mixed bag of canvases by Gerhard Richter and Ellsworth Kelly, and sculptures by Thomas Schütte and Isa Genzken, Christian Boltanski and Pierre Huyghe. (Some of the stronger works were commissioned from Mr. Kelly, Olafur Eliasson and Taryn Simon.)

Now the foundation will be a place to see some of the touchstones of modern art. “The Scream” is on loan from the Munch Museum in Oslo; Matisse’s “Dance,” not seen in Paris for 15 years, is on loan from the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg; Léger’s “Three Women” is from the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The building will also showcase works including Rothko’s “No. 46 (Black, Ocher, Red Over Red),” from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Also reported to be in the show is Brancusi’s “Endless Column, Version 1,” from MoMA. Crafted from carved oak, it is the first fully developed example of that celebrated sculpture. Picasso’s “Woman With Yellow Hair,” belonging to the Guggenheim Museum in New York, is also said to be arriving here, according to museum sources.

“The foundation indeed aims to be contemporary,” Ms. Pagé said. “But it doesn’t want to ignore the history of art, as it is seen in these major works of the 20th century, which continue to be a vital reference for artists today.”

The exhibition, “Les Clefs d’une Passion” (“The Keys to a Passion”), will be on view through July 6. Two weeks after it opens, another selection of works from the foundation will be installed in the rest of the galleries by contemporary masters including Warhol, Gilbert & George, Richard Prince and Douglas Gordon.

These presentations, Ms. Pagé hopes, will dispel questions by skeptical art lovers who at first wondered whether the new building was just a rich man’s toy; a 21st-century example of corporate branding, or if it would, over time, have the heft to become an integral part of Parisian cultural life.

“I think it’s something very important,” said Henri Loyrette, an art historian and the former director of the Louvre. “When I first saw it I thought more about the beautiful architecture than anything else. But on a second visit I realize there’s a lot more to it than that. They have been clever in the way you first discover the building and then progressively, over time, see different things.”

In a city where places to see art are, for the most part, government funded, the foundation is a rare example for Paris of a more typically American-style institution, similar to private museums for contemporary art opened by the Brant Foundation in Greenwich, Conn.; the Broad Foundation in Los Angeles; or the Rubell Family Collection in Miami.

Its novelty has aroused considerable curiosity here. Most days, lines snake around the building hours before it opens, and on weekends as many as 8,000 people a day, predominantly Parisians, have visited the city’s newest arts center.

Jean-Paul Claverie, a special adviser to Mr. Arnault who had worked under Jack Lang in the French Ministry of Culture, recalled being so bowled over by the Guggenheim Bilbao, which Mr. Gehry designed in the Basque region of Spain, that he convinced Mr. Arnault to go see it. “I knew it would have an impact on him,” Mr. Claverie recalled the other day, over lunch in the dining room of the foundation, where lamps in the shape of articulated fish, designed by Mr. Gehry, floated overhead. That visit, Mr. Claverie said, convinced Mr. Arnault to hire Mr. Gehry to design his foundation building.

While the architecture has been the big draw, the art is soon to be an equal partner. “When a building is first finished, curators generally want time to figure out how to use it,” Mr. Gehry said by phone from Los Angeles. “Every time I’ve designed a museum, the curators have always wanted to open it empty, but I’ve always insisted they put some art in it.”

Mr. Gehry said he had spent hours with Ms. Pagé studying the collection so the building’s 11 galleries — some with vertiginous ceilings — and roof terraces could show off the art to its best advantage.

“We have a constant dialogue about art; it’s not fashion,” Ms. Pagé said on a recent trip to New York, sipping tea at the Pierre Hotel after spending the day scouring galleries in Chelsea and catching up on museum exhibitions, including Leonard A. Lauder’s collection of Cubist art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which she said was “fantastique.”

“Mr. Arnault wants to create a very serious place,” Ms. Pagé added. Since his wife, Hélène Mercier, is a serious pianist, he also has a passion for performance. “Not just music, but poetry, too,” Ms. Pagé said. “Very few places in Paris have poetry.” So far in the 350-seat auditorium they have held concerts by the pianist Lang Lang and the band Kraftwerk, an installation by the German artist Florian Hecker and a poetry series organized by the writer Jérôme Game. Georgy Tchaidze, the 25-year-old Russian pianist, performed here on Friday.

This is not Mr. Arnault’s first public foray in the art world. In 1999, he bought Phillips, the auction house, which he merged with Simon de Pury and Daniella Luxembourg, two renowned dealers. The arrangement lasted only until 2002. Realizing that trying to compete with the auction giants Sotheby’s and Christie’s was a losing battle, he sold his stake to Mr. de Pury and Ms. Luxembourg. (None of the principals are still involved; Phillips is now owned by the Mercury Group, a Russian luxury goods company.)

While Mr. Arnault lost millions of dollars in Phillips, it did not dampen his enthusiasm or interest in art. Currently on view at the foundation is an exhibition of work by Mr. Eliasson, the Danish-Icelandic artist perhaps best known to New Yorkers for the four waterfalls he created in New York Harbor in 2008. For the LVMH site-specific installation, he created a space where viewers are enveloped in light and their own mirrored, dreamy reflections, set beside a pool of water on the building’s lower level, or grotto, as they call it.

With “The Keys to a Passion,” Ms. Pagé said that she hopes the public will see that the foundation is more than a showcase for contemporary art but also a place to learn about the historic figures inspiring art today. “Both are important,” she said. “You have to be very curious about what’s happening everywhere around the world, whether it’s in Sharjah or New York or Paris.”

"When Art Buyers Need Help" @wsj by Daniel Grant

It’s one thing to have the money and desire to collect art. It’s another thing to know what to buy.

Enter art advisers, a fast-growing profession that promises to bridge the often sizable gap between buyers and sellers of expensive art. Many advisers are hired by businesses that want art to inspire their employees and impress customers. Others are finding a lucrative practice among the newly minted superrich from the developed and developing world, many of whom wish to decorate opulent homes in lavish style, while others wish to build art collections, either for personal enjoyment, a public legacy, or perhaps both.

“A lot of my clients are somewhat informed about art, but most of them don’t know much, because they are really busy,” says Judith Selkowitz, an adviser in New York.

Here are some basics about how the art-advisory business works.

Who Uses Advisers

Art advisers tend to work for clients with very big budgets. Many such buyers, who often are pressed for time, are willing to pay substantial amounts for guides who help them identify highly desirable artists and pieces, and who negotiate the best prices for those works.

Wendy Cromwell, principal at the art advisory service Cromwell Art LLC in New York City, says her clients expect to spend at least six or seven figures on their art purchases. Ms. Cromwell, who is also president of the board of the Association of Professional Art Advisors, says that in most cases it isn’t worth the adviser’s time, or the client’s money, if the budget is less than roughly $30,000.

How They’re Paid

The size of the client’s budget and the kind of project they have in mind (decorating one or more houses, or building a large collection, for instance) tend to determine how the adviser gets paid. Variations include hourly fees, monthly retainers, payments on a quarterly, annual or biannual basis, or a flat percentage of the cost of the artworks purchased. Excluding hourly rates, fees average about 17% of the value of the art purchased, according to the Association of Professional Art Advisors.

An Education

For many clients, the adviser’s service begins with an education in art appreciation. Many buyers don't know their own tastes and preferences, so the initial meetings with an art adviser may involve a wide-ranging look at Western and non-Western art in different media and styles over a span of centuries.

Todd Levin, an art adviser in New York City, says, “The majority of the time I spend with my clients is educating them about artists, art history and the inner mechanics of the art.” That time may be spent visiting gallery or museum exhibitions, as well as at Mr. Levin’s office where he makes visual presentations. “The more knowledgeable they are, the more confident they are and the more apt to buy,” Mr. Levin adds.

[if ! lte IE 8]



Connections and Advantages

Some advisers say their relationships with certain gallery owners and dealers can give their clients advantages over most buyers of art, such as access to high-quality pieces that typically aren’t available to the public.

“Most gallery owners don’t put out their best work,” says Ms. Selkowitz. “I can get my clients into the galleries’ backrooms. I can get them to see pieces that the dealers haven’t even brought into the gallery yet. I can provide entrance to dealers who would never speak to these people.”

Some advisers also say they have connections that they say help them to negotiate lower purchase prices, or higher sale prices if a client wishes to sell a piece.

“We can shave the commission rate down from 25%, sometimes down to zero at auctions, because we do an enormous amount of business with auction houses,” says Jessica Ransom, an adviser with the Palm Beach, Fla., office of New York-based Winston Art Group Inc.

Choosing the Right Adviser

Things go more smoothly when clients and advisers have similar tastes, something the buyer should try to determine early in the process.

In initial meetings, or interviews, Mr. Levin suggests that buyers judge whether the potential adviser listens and communicates carefully. Advisers also should provide references, Mr. Levin says; perhaps a client or two, or gallery owners who have worked with the adviser.

Word-of-mouth recommendations (from dealers and collectors, usually) are the principal means by which someone learns of an adviser.

Some dealers and gallery owners moonlight as art advisers themselves, says Linda Blumberg, executive director of the Art Dealers Association of America. Because of fears of conflicts of interest, however, they aren’t permitted membership in the advisers association, says Ms. Cromwell, the group’s board president. The concern is that, as vendors, they would have a tendency to sell from their inventories instead of putting their clients’ interests first. Similarly, Ms. Cromwell says, her association cautions its members against accepting payments from dealers when purchasing works for their clients.

Paul Gray, director of the Chicago-based Richard Gray Gallery, sometimes acts as an adviser and says he sees no conflict of interest. “Dealers often advise clients and do it with the depth of experience and the degree of connoisseurship that comes from years of intense looking and activity in the market,” he says.

“A potential for conflict of interest exists in nearly all relationships,” Mr. Gray elaborates in an email. “It is the integrity of the individuals that distinguishes and circumspection should always be a consideration in sound decision making.”

"Kehinde Wiley Puts a Classical Spin on His Contemporary Subjects" @nytimes by Deborah Solomon

Now 37, Mr. Wiley is one of the most celebrated painters of his generation. He is known for vibrant, photo-based portraits of young black men (and occasionally women) who are the opposite of scared — they gaze out at us coolly, their images mashed up with rococo-style frills and empowering poses culled from art history. He maintains studios in China and Senegal in addition to New York. As a self-described gay man and the son of an African-American mother and a Nigerian father, he offers a model of the artist as multicultural itinerant.

At the moment, Mr. Wiley’s work seems to be everywhere, from the set of the Fox drama “Empire” to all of the right institutions. His first museum retrospective opens at the Brooklyn Museum on Feb. 20, before traveling to museums in Fort Worth, Seattle and Richmond, Va. In January, he was summoned to Washington to receive a Medal of Arts from the State Department. (“I brought my mother as my date,” he said.)

A Wiley painting is easy to recognize. More often than not, it shows a solitary figure, an attractive man in his 20s, enacting a scene from an old-master painting. Dressed in contemporary garb — a hooded sweatshirt, perhaps, or a Denver Broncos jersey — the man might be crossing the Swiss Alps on horseback with the brio of Napoleon or glancing upward, prophet-style, golden light encircling his head. Typically the man has a lean frame, and his clear skin gives off a coppery sheen. His posture is regal: shoulders rolled back, head turned slightly to reveal the elegant sweep of a jawline.

Every Wiley painting is a two-punch affair — the masculine figures contrast sharply with the ornately patterned, Skittles-bright backdrops unfurling behind them. Based on design sources as varied as Victorian wallpaper and Renaissance tapestries, the backgrounds can look as if thousands of curling petals had somehow been blown into geometric formations across the canvas. For the moment depicted in the painting, the men are protected and invincible, inhabiting an Arcadian realm far removed from the grit of the artist’s childhood.

Mr. Wiley’s champions tend to view his work in overt political terms. He redresses the absence of nonwhite faces in museum masterpieces, “using the power of images to remedy the historical invisibility of black men and women,” as Eugenie Tsai, the curator of the Brooklyn Museum show, observes in the accompanying catalog.

But you can also read his work in psychological terms, and Mr. Wiley himself emphasizes the never-ending tension in the paintings between their male and female aspects. “It’s about a figure in the landscape,” he said of his output, adding that the backdrops symbolize the land. “For me the landscape is the irrational. Nature is the woman. Nature is the black, the brown, the other.” He added, “That’s the logic behind it, but everyone has their own sort of reading.”

Mr. Wiley, who attended graduate art school at Yale, has a taste for academic language. During our conversation he used the words “slippage” and “surd,” the last of which sent me to the dictionary. It’s a math term for irrational numbers with no square root.

Surd, in truth, seems to capture something essential about Mr. Wiley, his distrust of reductive explanations. Although he has a warm manner and a winning gap-tooth smile, there is an aloofness about him, too, especially when he does not care for a question. I asked him whether he felt an affinity with the work of Chuck Close, who similarly paints portraits that disclose next to nothing about their subjects.

“He fetishizes the material process instead of an external story,” he said.

What about John Currin, his fellow Yalie and devotee of brazen pastiche? “We have different projects,” was Mr. Wiley’s businesslike reply.

Even his sexuality, by his description, defies categorization. “My sexuality is not black and white,” he said. “I’m a gay man who has occasionally drifted. I am not bi. I’ve had perfectly pleasant romances with women, but they weren’t sustainable. My passion wasn’t there. I would always be looking at guys.”

Before meeting Mr. Wiley, I had seen a photograph of him in a magazine and was struck by his stylishness. He was wearing a suit whose jazzy stripes matched the background of one of his paintings. Jeffrey Deitch, the art dealer who gave Mr. Wiley his first one-man show in New York and represented him for a decade, had urged me, only half-jokingly, to try to look in the artist’s bedroom closet if I wanted to understand him. It contains, Mr. Deitch said, dozens of custom-made suits, many of them byRon & Ron, a tony label founded by Haitian twins.

Mr. Wiley’s studio does not look like the haunt of a dandy. You enter the building by buzzing past a steel-frame security door that opens onto a long, sunless courtyard. The heat wasn’t working on the day of my visit, and the artist met me at the door bundled in layers of paint-stained work clothes. He proposed that we talk in a small front office warmed by a space heater, and night was already falling.

A fish tank glowed with blue light. Above it hung what appeared to be a Basquiat from the ’80s, a smattering of cryptic words (“teeth,” for instance) scratched into its brushy surface. When I complimented the painting, Mr. Wiley replied mischievously, “I painted it myself.”

Clearly, he has a gift for mimicry. He can do a Velázquez. He can do a Jacques-Louis David. He can do a Basquiat. His devotion to pastiche has kept him operating on a meta level, and perhaps at a deliberate remove from his past. “The stuff I do is a type of long-form autobiography,” he said, with his usual attention to paradox, “but the starting place is not me.”

The artist said he never met his father during his childhood, or even saw a photograph of him. Isaiah D. Obot — a Nigerian citizen who came to the United States as a scholarship student — returned to Africa after finishing his studies. He went on to have a second family in Nigeria and a substantial career in city planning.

The artist’s mother, Freddie Mae Wiley, a Texas native, studied linguistics and eventually became a teacher. Kehinde was the fifth of her six children, and a twin. For most of his childhood, he said, the family subsisted on welfare checks and whatever spare change came in from his mother’s thrift shop. The store didn’t have a sign or a retail space, other than a patch of sidewalk in front of the house on West Jefferson Avenue. But everyone in the neighborhood thought of it as Freddie’s Store. Mr. Wiley recalls the mounds of merchandise: used books, windup Victrolas, tarnished gold-leaf picture frames, porcelain figurines of rosy-cheeked lovers.

“It was like ‘Sanford and Son,’ ” he said, referring to the ’70s sitcom about two men with a salvage shop, “junk everywhere.”

The children would help their mother scout for new inventory, driving around in a Dodge van that backfired noisily. “That was the more embarrassing part,” he recalled. He added, “You’re 11, and you don’t want to be seen jumping out to go through your neighbor’s garbage. That’s social death!”

At 11, everything changed. His mom enrolled him in a free art course at a state college. Suddenly, he knew how he wanted to spend his life; his career unfolded with remarkable velocity. He attended college at the San Francisco Art Institute, before winning a scholarship to Yale. He arrived in New York in 2001 as an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

Since then, Mr. Wiley has “street-cast” his paintings, heading out to scout for models — initially along the jammed sidewalks on 125th Street in Harlem and later, when he had enough money, overseas, in China, Israel and elsewhere.

His paintings all begin with an exchange of glances between artist and subject. Mr. Wiley describes the process as “this serendipitous thing where I am in the streets running into people who resonate with me, whether for cultural or sexual reasons. My type is rooted in my own sexual desire.”

He added, with amusement, “Most people turn me down.” The willing few are instructed to come to his studio to pose for photographs that serve as source material for the portraits.

Mr. Wiley delegates much of his production to a bevy of assistants, so much so that he has been accused of outsourcing his entire output. “Wiley’s paintings are created by teams of assistants in China,” the critic Ben Davis observed in an ulcerous review at BlouinArtinfo.com in 2012.

At the time, Mr. Wiley had declined to say much about his process, but during our meeting, he was candid about the division of labor. In general, he said, his assistants are responsible for painting the super-busy, detail-packed backgrounds. “Let’s face it,” he said, “I’m not doing all that.”

After a background is laid in place, he starts in on the figure, the gently lit face and body, which he seems to view as the heart of his work. Rendering skin tones, especially black and brown ones, is a subtle process, and, if you look closely at a patch of cheek or forehead in his paintings, you are likely to notice an array of indigo blues and alizarin reds.

Even so, his surfaces are thinly painted, and he speaks with distaste for the Expressionist tradition of visible brush strokes. “My work is not about paint,” he told me. “It’s about paint at the service of something else. It is not about gooey, chest-beating, macho ’50s abstraction that allows paint to sit up on the surface as subject matter about paint,” he said.

Mr. Wiley has his share of critics who say his work is formulaic and repetitive. Whether he’s working in oil or watercolor, he deploys the same strategy of inserting dark-skinned figures into very white masterpieces of the past.

To be fair, he has varied his subjects over the years. In 2012, for his debut show at the Sean Kelly Gallery, he added women to his roster of models. (“It was my idea,” Mr. Kelly said, explaining that he was pushing Mr. Wiley to branch out.) Mr. Wiley has also ventured into sculpture, and his coming show at the Brooklyn Museum will include six stained-glass windows as well as a few bronze heads that can put you in mind of the portrait busts of Jean-Antoine Houdon, who flourished during the French Enlightenment.

“I am interested in evolution within my thinking,” he said. “I am not interested in the evolution of my paint. If I made buttery, thick paintings, there would be critics of that. You just have to proceed.”

In all fairness, he is only 37, which is still young for an artist. It would make more sense to talk about his evolution when he is 60 or 70. See you back here then.

"Sometimes Heartbreak Takes a Hostage" @nytimes by Jon Pareles

REYKJAVIK, ICELAND — It wasn’t exactly a beach day. It was a chilly, damp November morning with a drizzle that turned intermittently to rain. Björk called it “sniffle weather”; she and a video crew were at Grotta, a lighthouse on a spit of land on the coast here that she has often rented for stretches of isolated songwriting.

The tide and fleeting winter daylight gave her only a few hours to make the video that, if all goes as planned, will turn “Stonemilker,” the first song on her new album, “Vulnicura” (One Little Indian), into the virtual-reality finale of the Björk retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art that opens on March 8.

Björk was, as she has so often placed herself throughout her career, on the cusps of nature and technology, raw emotion and complex artifice. She often calls herself a “pop musician,” but that’s a humble understatement for an artist who, over the past three decades, has constantly experimented with sounds, structures and images around the elemental communication of her gentle, searing voice.

She was a preteenage pop singer — releasing her first album at 12 — and then the frontwoman of the Sugarcubes, Iceland’s celebrated art-punk band. Since 1992, she has made adventurous solo albums that, for all their eccentricities, have been international hits. Working with designers and directors, she has also enfolded herself in the kind of enigmatic, memorable images that made her appealing to MoMA — not least of them the unforgettable swan dress she wore to the 2001 Academy Awards, in which her effigy will preside over the public lobby during the exhibition.

She’s a consistent early adopter of new technologies. To shoot “Stonemilker” in 3-D, 360-degree virtual reality, the director Andrew Huang was using four pairs of sports cameras on a stand, refitted with 180-degree-angle lenses and facing in four directions, with their images to be stitched together later by software. Parts of the prototype were “literally held together with Scotch tape,” Mr. Huang said.

For the video, Björk wore an asymmetrically layered neon-yellow dress and leggings — the color, she told me, of “emergency” — and white platform shoes that made it difficult to clamber over a tall rock wall onto the black stone beach where the camera was set up. There wasn’t much time; by midafternoon, high tide would flood the only road from the lighthouse.

Since the 360-degree capture left nowhere to hide, Björk performed unseen; the crew and observers crouched behind the wall. As she lip-synced and danced, her voice, a string orchestra and a fitful electronic beat poured out of a speaker as she sang, “We have emotional needs!”

“Vulnicura,” Björk wrote on her website, is a “complete heartbreak” album; its songs plunge into the estrangement, separation and self-healing that came with the breakup of her relationship with the artist Matthew Barney. Their daughter, Isadora, was born in 2002. She also has a 28-year-old son. “Usually I don’t really talk about my private life,” Björk said. “But with this album, there’s no two ways about what it is. I separated during this album, ended a 13-year relationship, and it’s probably the toughest thing I’ve done.” (Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Barney declined to comment.)

She added: “You feel like you’re having open-heart surgery, with knives sticking in, so everything is out, and you have this urgency and immediacy. It has to happen right now, that you have to express yourself. And part of it is, you always feel like you belong to another power. It’s not yours, it’s like the universal heartbreak energy current — dot com,” she said with a laugh, “that is taking you hostage.”

The album’s intended release date, in March, was planned to coincide with the MoMA show and a world tour beginning March 7 at Carnegie Hall. But when the complete album was leaked on the Internet, Björk decided to sell her legitimate version online immediately. Her decision “was mostly impulsive,” she said by phone last Saturday. “All the record companies around the world were just stubborn about keeping to the plan. I’m not just, ‘Break the rules to break the rules,’ but it had a strange smell to it. The chances people were going to wait a month and a half were zero.”

“It was a 50-50 thing,” she continued. “What tipped it was also the emotional content of the album. It’s just been really important for me to have it out there. For me psychologically, to put it out in the world and move to the next thing — I think that’s good, and good karma, and good for me and my family, to just move on.”

Throughout Björk’s solo career, her music has merged the worldly and the otherworldly in ever-mutable ways. She has made albums extrapolating from club dance beats (“Post”), constructed almost entirely of vocal sounds (“Medulla”), or shaped by the plinks of harp and music boxes (“Vespertine”). Her 2011 album, “Biophilia,” featured an Icelandic choir as well as one-of-a-kind mechanical instruments, which will be displayed and heard in MoMA’s lobby. “It was important for her to have something of her show that is accessible to everybody,” said Klaus Biesenbach, MoMA’s chief curator at large, who first approached her about a retrospective back in 2000. Because she sees herself as a musician, not a visual artist, Björk didn’t agree to the idea until 2012.

In his introduction to the exhibition catalog, Mr. Biesenbach praises her for “creating innovative forms that cross all channels of our media-driven society.”

On her 1997 album “Homogenic” and, in different ways, on the new “Vulnicura,” Björk sets dramatic string arrangements against electronic beats — though “Vulnicura” is far less rhythm-driven, more rhapsodic, more abstract and more openly desolate. The similar palette may be no coincidence; both albums deal with heartbreak and perseverance.

Writing, for Björk, is largely solitary: “selfish moments” when she gets a chance to reflect. She often writes while walking outdoors, she said, “so it’s not a coincidence that most of my songs are 85 or 90 beats per minute.”

But this serious artist can also cut loose. After countless video takes in the cold, Björk could have called it a day. Instead, she invited the crew and some Reykjavik friends to her home for a wrap party that was also, it turned out, Björk’s slightly belated 49th birthday party. One friend’s gift was a scarf painted with Michael Jackson in Pierrot costume, which had her gushing about the “celebration, that sense of merging with other people” in his music. Then came a club crawl, much of it sound-tracked by her iPod.

First she plugged into the sound system of a cafe-bar near her house: Minimalism, gamelan music. Then the group headed into central Reykjavik and a basement club where Björk and her iPod took over for the D.J., playing Chaka Khan, Bollywood and the avant-pop composer Mica Levi. She hopped out of the D.J. booth to dance on the pool table, rolling across it like something in a vintage MTV video. Around midnight, she led her flock to Prikid, a packed hip-hop club, where she danced nonstop, sang along and downed shots of birch schnapps until nearly 4 a.m. “Best! Song! Ever!” she shouted when Amerie’s “1 Thing” hit the sound system.

“I like to do that properly, go all the way when you feel it,” she noted two days later, when she played the album for me in her home studio. “I like the extremes.”

Her house is cozy and book-lined, with startling touches of nature brought indoors: a spherical chandelier made of white feathers, a stone staircase with a balustrade built from (unendangered) minke whale bones. Her second-floor studio overlooks a seascape panorama: a cone-shaped mountain, a black sand beach, an ever-changing Icelandic sky. As she was about to hit Play on her laptop, she paused. “That cloud is crazy!” she said. “It’s like a fuzzy triangle, and then all the other clouds have definition.” I suggested that it was like her new songs; electronic sounds with indistinct edges are set against the fervently physical, defined strings and vocals.

The songs on “Vulnicura” are both premeditated — Björk writes her own string arrangements — and resolutely unguarded, with Björk’s voice open and exposed. She often kept her first impulses for the lyrics. “I almost didn’t fix anything,” she said. “It’s just got to be this conversation in your head, and if you take it someplace else then it loses the only thing it’s got — that urgency.” The album’s first six songs are a chronology of the breakup: feeling the partnership crumble and, eventually, coming to terms with it. “At the time I was really grumpy, like a teenager, because I couldn’t stand how typical it was. But it is true, when you are going through it, the songs just pour out of you,” she said.

“Weirdly, I think the survivalist in me kicked in. When you’re going through the most difficult things emotionally, the scientist kicks in to try and make sense of it all. Part of me wants just to hide it, and part of me is going, ‘No — this could be a document of the heartbreak of the species, and could even be helpful to someone.’”

Björk wasn’t looking forward to recording the songs. Although she enjoys the process of building and editing music with software — she compared it with knitting and embroidery — it had taken her three years to finish “Vespertine” because she was painstakingly constructing beats on her own. On previous albums, she had done most of the music but brought in collaborators to handle the most complex parts. “I could finish all my albums myself and do it on my own,” she said, “but it somehow doesn’t agree with my philosophy. I would feel it would be too inbred.”

Luckily, while writing “Vulnicura” in 2013, she heard two songs by Arca: Alejandro Ghersi, a 25-year-old electronic musician from Venezuela who had grown up on her music and who has made tracks with Kanye West and F.K.A. Twigs. She invited him to work with her in Iceland, and he ended up co-producing seven songs and programming for the other two. Another electronic musician who has darker sounds on his mind than dance beats, the Haxan Cloak (a.k.a. Bobby Krlic), mixed it.

Arca will be touring with Björk, along with a 15-piece string orchestra and the percussionist Manu DeLago, whose specialty is a steel drumlike instrument, the hang. “She’s a musician of the highest order,” Arca said via Skype. “She would be very, very precise, but it also would be accompanied with a lot of freedom.”

Both Arca and Björk said that he started out largely executing her ideas — she called herself a “bossy back-seat driver”— but their collaboration deepened. In the studio, he said, he sometimes “felt like a kid. We would just trade stuff back and forth — dancing a lot, laughing hysterically.”

The bleakest, bravest song on “Vulnicura” is “Black Lake,” which is dated in the album booklet as “2 months after” the separation. “My soul torn apart, my spirit is broken,” Björk sings, and the strings hover behind her in open, austere chords. When verses end, the chord sustains, lasting longer than the verse. It’s harrowing and deliberate.

“We call them the freezes,” Björk said. “At the time, I couldn’t put together one logical thought. You’re just stuck in pain, you’re stuck in unbearable pain, and you can just about express yourself and then you’re just stuck in the pain. You’re paralyzed.”

Yet as Björk recorded the album, “Black Lake” took careful technological shape. Along with “Stonemilker,” it is part of the “new commission” of the MoMA exhibition. At the sessions, each of the 30 string players was individually miked; MoMA is building a room with an array of speakers that will allow visitors to approach each track separately for a spatial experience of the music.

In the three years that Mr. Biesenbach and Björk have been working on the exhibition, she has grappled with the idea of “how do you hang a song on a wall?” They were drawn to the idea of songlines, the indigenous Australian tradition in which songs and images become maps. The question became, “How could you move in space, steered by sound and music?” Mr. Biesenbach said.

The show will have visitors — only 100 at a time — wearing headphones and walking through each of Björk’s adult solo albums in a room of its own, looking at costumes and videos and hearing a song through location-based triggering that will place them within the recordings. The audio guide will also include a fabulistic tale of Björk’s itinerary, written by her and a periodic collaborator, the novelist and poet Sjon, and narrated by Björk and an Icelandic director and actress, Margrét Vilhjálmsdóttir. For exhibition visitors, voices and music will demand as much attention as costumes and videos. “It will be some cacophony of sound,” Björk said. “There’s obviously some risk involved. But if it’s not dangerous, it’s not worth doing.”

"Takashi Murakami: ‘In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow’" @nytimes by KAREN ROSENBERG

Takashi Murakami’s “Isle of the Dead” (2014), at Gagosian, reflects on the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Credit 2014 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd; Robert McKeever, Gagosian Gallery

In his exhibition at Gagosian, Takashi Murakami appears unintimidated by big historical and religious subjects but strangely cowed by his fellow artists. Working in response to the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 2011 in the Tohoku region of Japan, he has come up with a quasi-spiritual installation of paintings and sculptures surrounding a copy of the gates of a Buddhist temple. It invites us to meditate and heal from the trauma of natural disasters and to savor expensively fabricated art objects while worshiping Koons, Hirst and Warhol (as if we needed another place to do that).

In an 82-foot mural inspired by the scrolls of the 19th-century Buddhist painter Kano Kazunobu, Mr. Murakami tosses manga-like figures into a stylized seascape and piles on a dazzling assortment of mosaic and marble effects. His sculptures, however, which include enormous painted-metal lion figures inspired partly by Damien Hirst’s “Hymn” and smaller mirrored ones reminiscent of Jeff Koons’s inflatables, feel too obvious — Buddhist icons in shiny, consumerist cladding.

Mr. Murakami is generally very good at aggregating and packaging ideas from other artists and epochs. (That’s what makes him such an interesting curator and mentor to other artists.) In this show he is working with some fascinating material, with evident ambition and astoundingly high production values, but you wish that some of this energy and expense would produce a more original statement.


Cy Twombly: ‘Treatise on the Veil’ @Nytimes by Roberta Smith

An untitled 1970 drawing with collage elements by Cy Twombly in “Treatise  on the Veil” at the Morgan Library & Museum. Credit The Menil Collection, Houston, Cy Twombly Foundation

Cy Twombly: Treatise on the Veil” ostentatiously combines two museum trends: exhibitions built around one important painting, and the growing urge of museums of all kinds to feature modern and contemporary art. Here the yen for newness is lavishly advertised by a show centering on the billboard-size painting “Treatise on the Veil (Second Version),” a panoramic canvas measuring nearly 33 feet across that Cy Twombly (1928-2011) made in Rome in 1970.

The painting, from the Menil Collection in Houston, is displayed in what seems like splendid isolation despite the presence of 10 large related collages, some of which incorporate cardboard and plywood. Most were made on May 27 or 28 of that year and depict a work divided into several panels, just as the first version of “Treatise on the Veil,” from 1968, was.

But Mr. Twombly eventually settled on a single surface, which allowed for an expansive field loosely painted in shades of gray, similar to his blackboard paintings but more exuberant. To this he added a relatively restrained graphic narrative in white crayon: Five pairs of ruled parallel lines skip horizontally across the lower portion of the canvas, forming a kind of channel through which four or five hand-drawn lines crackle like sound, water or electricity — or, less specifically, the hum of life.

Attesting to Mr. Twombly’s ability to scale up drawing without sacrificing its essential intimacy, the work magnifies his exploration of line, registering his nervous energy as it fluctuates effortlessly from cursive to musical or mathematical notation to architectural sketch.

“Treatise” looks both glorious and slightly out of place at the Morgan, whose primary commitment is to drawings, prints and manuscripts from before 1900. It doesn’t help that it hangs above dark wood wainscoting, rather than closer to the floor and more in the viewer’s space. Still, the painting is a remarkable fusion of drawing and painting and of flamboyance and restraint. Among Mr. Twombly’s largest, it hasn’t been seen in New York in decades. Its return is a valiant attempt to bring new purpose to one of New York’s most beautiful and venerable art spaces.


"A New Art Palace Sets Sail in Paris" @wsj by Joel Henning

Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Bois de Boulogne                                  

Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Bois de Boulogne Bruno Morandi/Corbis

As you approach Frank Gehry’s monumental structure on the edge of Paris in the verdant Bois de Boulogne, you first see a billowing array of glass panels joined together like a three-dimensional collage, very much suggesting a ship under sail, an illusion reinforced by the sunken reflecting pool fed by a ground-level cascading fountain. Here, glass becomes Mr. Gehry’s defining material, molded in a wholly novel way. The architect of the titanium Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain and the stainless-steel Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles has found yet another way—entirely new—to make our jaws drop, inspired in part by his love of yachting and in part by the monumental barrel-vaulted glass roof of Paris’s Grand Palais exhibition hall off the Champs-Élysées.

This is the Fondation Louis Vuitton, built by LVMH, the company whose luxury brands include Louis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy, as well as Dior, Fendi, Bulgari, Donna Karan, Givenchy and a few dozen others. LVMH may well be the ideal client for this structure, perhaps the most self-conscious work of architecture designed to house art since Frank Lloyd Wright’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on New York’s Fifth Avenue.

The 3,600 glass panels are each unique—shaped in kilns specially developed for the job. Each contains white ceramic dots to temper the sun’s heat. And then there is the museum itself, a complex structure encompassed by the glass sails and constructed mainly of Ductal, an ultra-high-performance concrete.

The buildings 3600 glass panels are each uniqueshaped in kilns specially developed for the job ENLARGE
The building’s 3,600 glass panels are each unique—shaped in kilns specially developed for the job. Bruno Morandi/Corbis

Several early critics couldn’t resist the urge to knock a “starchitect” of Mr. Gehry’s popularity working for a luxury goods conglomerate marketing exclusively to the wealthy and those who aspire to be so. Artnet News described the structure as “The Sydney Opera House crossed with a blimp.” Others criticized the location, far out of Paris proper, and characterized the early exhibitions as mediocre work by big-name contemporary artists. But these naysayers missed much that is enthralling here.

There is no way anything resembling this singular structure would have been allowed in the lovely, dense, over-administered heart of Paris. With the exception of I.M. Pei’s Louvre Pyramid of 1989, entirely enclosed in that museum’s main courtyard, nothing much that is new has gone up there since the 1977 opening of the relatively staid Centre Pompidou, designed by Richard Rodgers and Renzo Piano. Just this week a French appeals court blocked the modest renovations proposed by LVMH to the abandoned La Samaritaine Department Store. LVMH plans to appeal.

Fortuitously, LVMH administers for the City of Paris the Jardin d’Acclimatation, a children’s park in the Bois on the western edge of the city. The garden, created by Napoleon III in 1860, includes an archery range, house of mirrors, miniature-golf course, narrow-gauge train, pony ride, puppet theater, and science and art museums for children. But on its edge stood an ugly, abandoned bowling alley.

Mr. Gehry and LVMH’s CEO, Bernard Arnault, proposed to replace that hulk with the Fondation. Still, Paris’s mayor didn’t come around until Mr. Gehry suggested that the building be largely glass. “We talked about buildings in parks made of glass, like the old Crystal Palace in London’s Hyde Park and the Grand Palais,” Mr. Gehry told me, “so I did some sketches that he liked.” But these uniquely shaped and sculpted glass sails required Mr. Gehry and his colleagues essentially to invent a new process. “The cost of the building went up considerably having a double skin, because you can’t hang art on glass,” Mr. Gehry said.

Fortunately Mr. Arnault’s pocket has great depth—he is one of the richest men in Europe. Mr. Gehry prides himself on bringing his buildings in on budget, but he told me that he didn’t know the cost of this one and wasn’t working against a prescribed budget. Mr. Arnault’s chief cultural aide, Jean-Paul Claverie, who headed the building project, told me that it cost more than $120 million, but that seems low, perhaps by half, according to an individual close to the project.

Inside the Horizon a permanent installation by Olafur Eliasson ENLARGE
‘Inside the Horizon,’ a permanent installation by Olafur Eliasson. Olafur Eliasson/Iwan Baan

Mr. Arnault is one of the European pioneers of major private philanthropy, which is relatively new to that continent. In addition to his enormous private collection of contemporary art, he has been in the vanguard of European business magnates sponsoring major exhibitions, as well as other philanthropic work including the restoration of parts of Versailles and of Rome’s Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps. In addition to its own art, the Fondation exhibits works from Mr. Arnault’s private collection, as well as objects on loan.

The galleries range from immense to intimate. Five of Ellsworth Kelly’s paintings are ingeniously displayed in a chapel-like space, unlike the massive rooms in which his paintings are usually found. During its inaugural months, the building itself is featured in several galleries. On view through March 16 is a selection of Mr. Gehry’s early sketches, models, computer renderings and construction blueprints. After first viewing the site, he doodled sketches while flying back to Los Angeles that don’t look like much until you realize that they are remarkably consistent with the finished product. So much for critics who allege that Mr. Gehry’s work emanates mainly from his computer software.

To me the most fascinating exhibit on view at the Fondation’s opening was “A Polite Fiction” (which, unfortunately, has since closed), the work of the American photographer and graphic designer Taryn Simon. Allowed to nose around the site during excavation and construction, she uncovered more than 400 artifacts, many of which were on display, including a newspaper article about the 2013 murder of three Kurdish political activists in Paris, placed in the ceiling of the executive office, and a plastic bottle of urine hidden behind ceramic tile in the administrative restrooms, along with many lewd notes and drawings. She also tracked, occasionally purchased and photographed objects purloined from the site, such as copper and aluminum cables sold to scrap dealers; cement used by a father to build the walls of his daughter’s bedroom; and an oak sapling that a worker took to Poland, planted, and named after his boss. To my knowledge this is the only time an artist became the archaeologist of a massive construction project and then made art of her discoveries, thus magically introducing us to the hard hats who built it.

I was transfixed by “Inside the Horizon,” a permanent installation by the Danish artist Olafur Eliasson of 43 prism-shaped, illuminated yellow columns alternating with mirrors, arrayed along a walkway in the grotto beside a pool, creating kaleidoscopic reflections of the building, water, lights and the viewer’s own image.

Ellsworth Kelly - Color Panels                                      
Ellsworth Kelly - Color Panels Ellsworth Kelly/Fondation Louis Vuitton Marc Domage

The elegant auditorium contains a permanent Ellsworth Kelly installation of five cheerful colored fabric panels as well as his 12-panel painted canvas stage curtain happily suggesting a contemporary counterpart to the earlier theater work of Picasso, Chagall and other modern artists. When the seats rise out of the floor, the space accommodates 350 people. But when the seats are hidden away, the auditorium can hold as many as 1,000 for music, dance, lectures and Louis Vuitton fashion shows.

Now all the galleries contain art, but when I visited in mid-November, some galleries were empty, leaving no question that in the beginning the Fondation Louis Vuitton was more about the architecture than the art. This left more time and energy to feast on the building and its myriad terraces and gardens, arrayed on a multitude of levels and affording spectacular views of Paris and the Bois. The auditory, visual and spatial assets of the galleries suggest that in time contemporary artists will thrive here. Curator Suzanne Pagé has been in place since 2006. “Suzanne was really a part of the design of the galleries,” Mr. Gehry told me. Her highly regarded 18 years as director of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris suggest that she will not be unduly daunted by Mr. Arnault, his private art collection or his fortune as she curates extremely contemporary work in this exceptional structure, designed by a man of 85 years, in a children’s playground, on the edge of one of the world’s most ancient capitals.

Mr. Henning writes about the arts and culture for the Journal.

"A Profusion of Enlightenment" @nytimes by KEN JOHNSON

Here comes the sun. And what a relief! With the winter solstice behind us, the days getting longer and brighter, and the dawn of a new year just around the corner, it’s a happy time to think about the light and the darkness and what those two terms mean for art and life.

THROUGH THE GLASS DARKLY Among the sunniest artworks on view now in New York is Spencer Finch’s “A Certain Slant of Light” at the Morgan Library & Museum. For this immersive installation, Mr. Finch covered many of the glass panes of the museum’s airy four-story atrium with rectangular sheets of translucent colored film. Suspended high overhead in the middle of the space is a set of clear glass squares, each freely turning in response to ambient air currents. As they turn, they reflect the sunlight filtered through the colored films, creating a crystalline, prismatic play of colors.

It’s all immensely subtle; visitors may not even realize they’re in the middle of a site-specific artwork. The title, taken from the first line of a poem by Emily Dickinson, seems appropriate, as it suggests an exquisitely sensitive attunement to ordinary experience. If you don’t remember the poem, however, you may be surprised on rereading it; it’s actually very dark. Dickinson’s slanted light “oppresses like the Heft/Of cathedral Tunes” and gives “Heavenly Hurt.” It’s “the seal Despair — An imperial affliction.” The last lines are chilling:

“Tears Become ... Streams Become ...” at the Park Avenue Armory. Credit Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

When it goes, ’tis like the Distance

On the look of Death

You don’t sense in Mr. Finch’s installation anything like Dickinson’s psychic distress. That’s a problem. His work is pretty but thin; it could use some darker substance.

(“A Certain Slant of Light” runs through Aug. 23 at the Morgan Library & Museum, 225 Madison Avenue, at 36th Street; 212-685-0008212-685-0008, themorgan.org.)

BLACK WATER UNDER A NIGHT SKY There’s plenty of darkness in “Tears Become ... Streams Become ...” a vast, magical installation by Douglas Gordon at the Park Avenue Armory. It consists of two grand pianos that seem to float on a hockey-rink-size expanse of black water. Mr. Gordon designed it as the setting for a program of water-related music by Ravel, Liszt and Debussy, among others, played by the pianist Hélène Grimaud.

A photograph of an Antarctic iceberg, part of Sebastião Salgado's "Genesis." Credit Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas images-Contact Press Images

The final performance took place last Sunday. Now the installation remains, with a player piano operating silently, as if a ghost were at the keys.

Illuminated by small ceiling lights like stars in the night sky, the installation has a haunting, nocturnal feeling. The glassy water’s surface mirrors the armory’s high, barrel-vaulted ceiling and its infrastructure, creating a breathtakingly expansive illusion of deep architectural space. In its vertiginous complexity, it’s like a vision by the 18th-century printmaker Piranesi. Although in reality only about two inches deep, the water appears to be of indeterminate depth. What’s beneath the surface is unknown, a possibly infinite darkness, which you might read as a psychological metaphor for the unconscious, whence spring inspirations of creative imagination.


THE LIGHT OF THE DIVINE There’s much darkness in Sebastião Salgado’s art, too. At the start of “Genesis,” his exhibition of more than 200 photographs at the International Center of Photography, there’s a spectacular black-and-white picture of a giant iceberg under a luminous sky of mottled clouds. It’s an amazing object. Rising from a flat, black ocean, it has sharp peaks and ridges, a great hole through part of it and, most improbably, a blocky formation resembling the top of a medieval castle towering high over the lower, craggy base.

The iceberg picture belongs to a project Mr. Salgado began in 2004 to seek out and photograph landscapes, seascapes, wild life and indigenous peoples that appear untouched by the effects of technological progress. Hence the biblical title “Genesis,” suggesting a prelapsarian state of nature. Thus framed, the light that so strikingly breaks through tumultuous clouds in many of Mr. Salgado’s landscapes has a divine cast to it; it’s the beneficent light of God pouring down over all things great and small. What’s not pictured but looms off-camera are shadows of what William Blake called the “dark satanic mills” of modern industry.

Sarvavid Album Leaf 18 from "The All-Knowing Buddha: A Secret Guide," at the Rubin Museum of Art. Credit Museum aan de Stroom, Antwerp (Belgium), Rubin Museum of Art

Like Ansel Adams before him, Mr. Salgado aims to arouse environmentalist concern. He and his wife, Lélia Wanick Salgado, founded the Instituto Terra, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reforestation and environmental education. There’s something contradictory about Mr. Salgado’s project, though. The camera is, after all, a modern machine, and he uses machines to travel by land, water and air to the remote places he captures on film. He is himself a kind of technologically armed invader altering planetary ecology, however slightly or greatly, wherever he goes. But that dimension isn’t reflected in his seemingly innocent photographs, and so they’re less complexly thought-provoking — less fully enlightening — than they might be.

(“Genesis” runs through Jan. 11 at the International Center of Photography, 1133 Avenue of the Americas, at 43rd Street; 212-857-0000212-857-0000, icp.org.)

REFLECTED LIGHT, SILVERY AND ENIGMATIC There are many different kinds of enlightenment. Consider “The Flat Side of the Knife,” an installation by Samara Golden at MoMA PS 1. Standing at a railing where you look into the museum’s two-story-tall Duplex Gallery, you behold a confoundingly complicated interior architecture with furniture, stairways, musical instruments, wheelchairs and many other domestic items rendered in silvery, foil-clad foam board. Light bounces every which way, creating a kind of crystalline, 3-D Cubism. Far below — farther than seems really possible — you see an arrangement of chairs, a sofa and a colorful rug. Then, looking up, you see the same objects attached upside down to the ceiling. It turns out that the gallery’s floor is covered by a grid of large mirrors; what you see when you look down isn’t real but a reflection of what’s above. Everything is doubled, and what you think is up may really be down, and what you take to be real may be a virtual reflection of the real.

The installation includes two videos projected on wall-mounted screens, both showing ocean waves rhythmically lapping a sandy beach. The sound of the waves fills the gallery. The screens are like windows to the outdoors, and they also suggest something metaphysical beyond the constructed interior. Maybe this is what Ms. Golden means by her thoughts quoted in the exhibition’s introductory text panel: “I hope my work can be like a door that opens to other times or moods. Maybe we can see that this kind of door is possible, but we don’t yet know how to cross its threshold.”

(“The Flat Side of the Knife” runs through Aug. 30 at MoMA PS1, 22-25 Jackson Avenue, at 46th Avenue, Long Island City, Queens; 718-784-2084718-784-2084, momaps1.org.)

An image of galaxies receding from "Dark Universe," a new Hayden Planetarium space show. Credit American Museum of Natural History,

BY THE LIGHT OF A WHITE MOON, ENLIGHTENMENT You may recall Aldous Huxley’s treatise on mescaline-assisted mind expansion, “The Doors of Perception,” which takes its title from William Blake’s mystical aphorism: “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

But how, exactly — barring the use of psychedelic drugs — might a person progress toward this sort of enlightenment? A fascinating and remarkably thorough manual for seekers of higher consciousness is on view at the Rubin Museum of Art in an exhibition called “The All-Knowing Buddha: A Secret Guide.” It presents 54 paintings that illustrate step-by-step instructions for followers of Tibetan Buddhism. Delicately painted on 10-inch-by-10-inch paper sheets, most of the pages depict a monk having fabulous visions in a verdant landscape.

The album is thought to have been commissioned by a Mongolian patron and executed by unidentified artists in a Chinese workshop in the 18th century. Acquired in 1923 by a European missionary working in Inner Mongolia, it now belongs to the Museum aan de Stroom in Antwerp, Belgium. Although the album has no written text, scholars have done a lot to make sense of its trippy imagery. Its most recent examiners, Karl Debreczeny and Elena Pakhoutova, both Rubin curators and organizers of the exhibition, have provided brief, lucid explanations for every page. Leaf 36, for example, represents “full and complete enlightenment” in the form of a white moon emanating rainbow-hued light waves. Ensconced on a great blue lotus that rests on an ornate hexagonal pedestal, it’s guarded by a pair of fierce, flaming demons who are like cosmic bouncers.

(“The All-Knowing Buddha” runs through April 13 at the Rubin Museum of Art, 150 West 17th Street, Chelsea; 212-620-5000212-620-5000, rubinmuseum.org.)

DARKNESS UNFATHOMABLE What does one who ascends to the level of the all-knowing Buddha know? That’s hard to say for an ordinary mortal, but it might be worth asking such an enlightened one if he or she could shed light on the mystery of dark matter. That’s the subject of “Dark Universe,” an entertaining and educational 30-minute movie projected on the domed ceiling of the Hayden Planetarium. Created for a popular audience, it conveys up-to-date knowledge about how the universe began, what it seems to be doing now and where it might be going.

Here we learn something that has so far stumped scientists: It seems that if you calculate all gravitational forces observably in play in the universe, you can’t explain how it is that the stars and galaxies are organized as they evidently are. Something must be exerting some kind of gravitational energy to keep things in place, but what that is has eluded detection by any and all human-made instruments. It neither gives off nor reflects any kind of electromagnetic radiation. Yet if scientific theories are correct, there must be a shocking amount of it: Only 5 percent of the universe is what we think of as ordinary matter. The rest is unfathomably dark.