NOW YOU SEE IT: Le Bon Marché is tying itself in knots over its new art exhibition.
The Paris department store has invited Leandro Erlich, the Argentine artist famed for employing optical illusions in his work, to create several installations, the most striking of which makes its famed escalator look as twisted as a pretzel.
Erlich has paid homage to the City of Light’s changing skies by filling its windows with wispy cloudlike shapes. Surreal cloud formations will be projected on a giant screen erected under the store’s glass roof. Meanwhile, a bank of fake elevators promises to further scramble visitors’ perception.
“I am mainly interested in transforming elements that you believe can’t be transformed, can’t be different. It’s about the utopia of presenting the possibility of transforming what exists into something else, and this action invites us to imagine reality in a different way,” the artist told WWD.
The site-specific installation was inspired by the “iconic” quality of the central escalator, designed by Andrée Putman in 1990, which Erlich – who used to live in Paris – considers as recognizable as the Eiffel Tower, albeit on a smaller scale.
Scheduled to run from Jan. 12 to Feb. 18, the exhibition, titled “Sous le Ciel” (or “Under the Sky”), marks the third time the retailer has opened its doors to a contemporary artist, following installations by Ai Weiwei in 2016 and Chiharu Shiota in 2017.
While Erlich has collaborated previously with Chanel and Hermès on one-off events, this is the first time he has exhibited inside a store.
“I don’t consider accessibility dangerous. There is a belief that anything that is mainstream, that attracts a large audience, is rubbish, that things that draw a wider audience can’t be deep or serious. Sometimes that’s true, and sometimes it isn’t. At any rate, I’m interested in stepping outside my comfort zone,” he said.
Le Bon Marché, owned by luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, has stepped up its artist collaborations amid a growing emphasis on in-store experiences by retailers facing competition from online sales. It branched out into e-commerce last year with the launch of the global sites 24 Sèvres.
Erlich, who is the subject of a retrospective at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, noted that department stores increasingly are becoming cultural spaces.
“Today, we live in a complex reality with the rule of phones, social media and communication,” he remarked. “You are seeing an increasing level of crossover, with museums showing fashion on the one hand, and brands providing a stage for artists.”