Whereas in pre-18th century France, art was virtually monopolized by religious and royal entities, later on, art in France was democratized, starting with the opening of the Louvre in 1793 following the 1789 French Revolution. With the monarchy having been overthrown and many of the royal castles ransacked, the museum housed much of the royal art collection, finally making it accessible to the public.
We could say that in France today, instead of religious and royal establishments, a large part of the Parisian art scene is dominated by the new rulers of society: luxury brands. However, the difference between royal or religious establishments and these new art patrons lies in their objectives in showing art. Whereas before, art was synonymous with wealth and influence, luxury brands not only use art for marketing purposes, but they also make art accessible to all. By funding the arts and exhibition venues, it also allows artists to become known to a large circle of viewers and to obtain a rare budget for funding more complex artistic projects.
Louis Vuitton, part of the Bernard Arnault-owned luxury conglomerate LVMH (Louis Vuitton-Moët Hennessy), opened the Espace Culturel Louis Vuitton in 2006. The space is used for showing contemporary art right in the heart of Paris above the landmark Vuitton flagship store on the Champs-Elysées. The brand also has art spaces abroad in Tokyo and Munich where, like in Paris, the open studio program In Situ -1 will run until early January 2015. As Michael Burke, Chairman and CEO at Louis Vuitton said, "A defined passion for creation has always been at the core of Louis Vuitton, which translates into the idea of witnessing how new work materializes and sharing the experience of the creative process." The Paris edition was launched in June 2014 by American artist Andrea Bowers who is known through a body of work championing civil rights causes: feminism, workers' rights, global warming, AIDS. Adding to the current art space in central Paris is the Frank Gehry-designed Fondation Louis Vuitton situated in the Boulogne woods. The ultra modern glass and steel building comprising an 11,700 square metre exhibition space is due to open on 27 October 2014.
The go-to contemporary art centre for the last 30 years is the beautiful Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain designed by star French architect Jean Nouvel. Created by the luxury jewellery brand Cartier, the foundation opened in 1984 in Jouy-en-Josas close to Versailles, and moved to its current location close to Montparnasse in 1994. The Fondation Cartier plays an important role on the Parisian art scene and is one of the best venues for international culture with solo shows of work by artists from all over the world including Yue Minjun, Moebius, Patty Smith and Ron Mueck. However, the Fondation Cartier is also known for the numerous exhibitions that invite the public to reflect on art as a social movement, like voodoo art with Les Trésors du Vaudou (voodoo treasures) and graffiti with Né dans la rue (born in the streets).
Launched by the French couturier in 1970, the Espace Pierre Cardin (main image) is a cultural complex spread across three floors. The building, previously the Théâtre des Ambassadeurs close to the Concorde end of the Champs Elysées, incorporates a theatre, cinema and exhibition galleries. Artists of all kinds, from film directors to dancers, singers to actors, including Jean Genet, Jean-Michel Ribes, Gérard Depardieu and Shirley Bassey, have worked at the Espace since it was founded. Cardin, a big art fan, also owns Maxim's, the Art Nouveau-style restaurant close to Concorde, which is renowned for its diverse art collection. Cardin has also opened other art venues like the Espace Evolution also in Paris, as well as the Palais Bulles on the Côte d'Azur and Château Lacoste in the Lubéron.
Although these French luxury brands are using contemporary art as a means of promoting their brands, funding quality art spaces to render art more accessible is a key focus and has meant that some of the biggest and most interesting names on the international art circuit have been able to share their creations with Paris, still very much top of the list as one of the world's major art cities.