Collaborations between luxury brands and established artists is nothing new. However, it is almost always within the context of contemporary art, not the great master works of 16th century renaissance legends like Leonardo da Vinci.
As The Guardian‘s Jonathan Jones pointed out, heritage art museums don’t have the easiest time attracting young, wealthy and modern new fans through their doors – Britain, in particular, is experiencing an alarming drop – so every little bit the art community can do to change that is probably a good thing.
Enter the latest high-profile artist collaboration in the fashion word: Louis Vuitton and Jeff Koons. The two sent waves internationally last month when they announced a new collection of bags and accessories dubbed the Masters Collection – designed by Koons himself.
The American legend has borrowed from his revered “Gazing Ball” paintings – a series of large-scale hand-painted reproductions of works by the Old Masters – plastering recreations of old masterpieces by da Vinci, Titian, Rubens, Fragonard and Van Gogh across iconic Louis Vuitton bags. As with the original “Gazing Ball” series, these accessories and bags are an avenue for viewers to discover these legendary works in a new light, says Louis Vuitton.
Koons, whose “Balloon Dog (Orange)” holds the record for most expensive work by a living artist ever sold at auction (US$58.4 million), has done a lot of pop culture collaborations so this partnership isn’t necessarily a shock, but it’s hard for the world to not gawk a little when two heavyweights of this size collide, which is, kind of, the whole point.
In addition to mixing classic works with Louis Vuitton swag, Koons reconfigured the famous Louis Vuitton Monogram, most commonly seen on the brand’s ubiquitous brown leather bags, to bear his initials. This is not a trivial detail, either. It marks the only time the brand has allowed anyone to alter the pattern’s design, but considering the ethos of Koons’ work with the “Gazing Ball” series it seems like an appropriate moment to do so.
The newly-designed Monogram pattern is represented in crafted metal pieces and placed on the exterior of the bags. Each bag also features the inflatable rabbit motif that’s proved a staple of Koons’ 40-year career. Biographies of the masters whose work is featured on each bag is found on the inside.
The collection has been called everything from a “joyous art history lesson” and “fashion must-haves” to a “boring” reinterpretation of classic art. That’s more or less in line with how Koons is perceived in real life. He is generally beloved and respected, but also somewhat polarizing among select art aficionados.
Michael Burke, the chief executive officer of Louis Vuitton, told the New York Times that they expected some pushback from the art community.
“People are going to be upset about the sacred entering the realm of the profane,” he said. “But we like to do things that can be perceived as politically incorrect. If we are getting flak, we think we are doing something right.”
It’s not the first time the brand has collided with high culture, commissioning contemporaries like Stephen Sprouse, Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince, Yayoi Kusama, Cindy Sherman, James Turrell, Olafur Eliasson and Daniel Buren in recent years past.
According to Louis Vuitton brass, the launch of the collection late last month represents the first of many between it and Koons. It was tight-lipped on the details but confirmed the series would continue to explore art history.