Bernard Arnault’s Latest Art Acquisition Is a ‘Gift’ to Paris

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STREET ART: Bernard Arnault is one of the world’s biggest art collectors, owning works by everyone from Pablo Picasso to Jeff Koons. But his latest acquisition is one that everyone can enjoy.

On Wednesday afternoon, the billionaire dropped by his Cheval Blanc hotel in Paris to admire a new sculpture by French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel freshly installed on the facade of the Art Deco building overlooking the Seine river.

As if on cue, the rain showers stopped and sunbeams gleamed off the metallic flowers that sit in the 20-meter rectangle previously taken up by the sign of the Samaritaine department store, which occupied the premises before Arnault’s luxury group LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton undertook a 16-year renovation of the site.

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The 75-year-old, dressed in a black turtleneck sweater and navy jacket, posed for pictures in front of the hotel alongside Othoniel and Cheval Blanc chief executive officer Olivier Lefebvre.

Arnault, the world’s richest man according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, drew a crowd of onlookers as he pulled out his cell phone to take a souvenir photo of his own, smiling broadly as he shared his first impressions with Othoniel.

Jean-Michel Othoniel's sculpture Passion Flowers on the facade of the Cheval Blanc Paris hotel.
Jean-Michel Othoniel’s sculpture “Passion Flowers” on the facade of the Cheval Blanc Paris hotel.

The artist said the work, named “Passion Flowers,” was inspired by the floral patterns adorning the painstakingly restored Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings that make up the original site of the store, which now shares the prime spot with the upscale Cheval Blanc property.

“With this title, I wanted to show the passion for art in this hotel. And it’s not just the hotel, but the entire LVMH group that supports artists, so this work clearly reflects its role as a 21st-century patron of the arts,” Othoniel told WWD.

The installation is a teaser for the new work he will show as part of his exhibition at the Sara Hildén Art Museum in Finland, opening June 8.

It marks Othoniel’s third collaboration with Cheval Blanc, having previously created works for its outposts on the Caribbean island of St. Barths and in the Courchevel ski resort in France.

“In Paris, it’s very different from the other two hotels because the work is located outside, so it’s a piece of public art, a gift from the hotel to the city that is also made to be seen by all the tourists crossing the bridge,” he said. “Paris is a tough place for art. There are very few works of art in public spaces, so it’s really exceptional.”

Having said that, Othoniel’s work can already be admired on the streets of the French capital. He is behind the ornate glass bead dome installed in 2000 at the entrance of the Palais Royal — Musée du Louvre metro station.

“I worked with the same craftspeople here,” he said, pointing toward the bas-relief of flowers cast in metal and gilded with gold leaf, surrounded by Murano glass beads and set around the centerpiece: a horse in shimmering white gold.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to be here, especially just before the Olympic Games,” Othoniel enthused.

LVMH is a premium partner of the Paris 2024 Games and is investing 150 million euros in the sporting event. If all goes according to plan, the Opening Ceremony will take place on the Seine, and guests at the Cheval Blanc — which boasts floor-to-ceiling windows with spectacular views of the river — will have the best seats in town.

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