When news broke about a Louis Vuitton exhibition in Shanghai, fashionistas got excited at the prospect of more luxurious handbags.

However, it has nothing to do with bags, but about the world seen by 16 artists.

Since 2013, the Louis Vuitton Travel Book project has invited artists to explore the world and create art based on their experiences, which are published in volumes according to different destinations.

Curated by the Pearl Art Museum, the “Reading Walking: Louis Vuitton Travel Book” exhibition showcases nearly 300 artworks created by 16 artists and illustrators from China and beyond.

“Reading and walking have always been two inseparable concepts. The title of the exhibition actually originated from a well-known quote of Dong Qichang (1555-1636), a renowned Chinese calligrapher and painter,” says Li Dandan, the museum’s director.

Li Dandan, director of the Pearl Art Museum
Li Dandan, director of the Pearl Art Museum

The museum, in tandem with Light Space Xinhua Bookstore, is the first art institution in China to feature the “art museum+bookstore” structure designed by Japanese architect Tado Ando.

“It will be the first time for nearly all of the original artworks from the Louis Vuitton Travel Book collection to be displayed in the world,” Li says. “Upon entering the museum, visitors will feel like stepping into a kaleidoscope of the infinite universe. They will experience the iridescent and splendid views of different cultures from different regions intertwined with the unique characteristics of different artists.”

For example, Liu Xiaodong, one of the two Chinese artists involved in the project, went to South Africa. Liu deploys elaborate narratives and a powerful presence of locales in his work. His paintings incorporate film-making techniques, photography and the written word, sensitively engaging with and depicting his experiences across uncharted territories and cultures.

Apart from the original works, a film that records each artist’s life and creative process during each trip will also feature at the exhibition.

"Cuba" series by Li Kunwu
“Cuba” series by Li Kunwu

Q: How did you come up with the idea for the “Reading Walking: Louis Vuitton Travel Book” exhibition?

A: For Pearl Art Museum, a newly opened museum, the most important thing is to find its “special character.” Of course, it needs time and persistence. As a unique art museum with a bookstore inside a complex, during the preparation in building the museum, our team communicated widely with many major art institutions, artists, writers, curators and consulates around the world, as “international, tasteful and nurturing” is our museum’s goal. We wanted to break the bonds in different areas and Pearl Art Museum will open its door to welcome those who love reading, art and life.

We found the Louis Vuitton Travel Book concept, a publishing project coupled with a program of artistic residencies all over the world, particularly innovative and original. Moreover, this collection of books joins the philosophy of our museum, establishing a link between the world of art and the world of books.

Q: How long did your team prepare, and how was cooperation with Louis Vuitton?

A: In fact, I read some books such as “Louis Vuitton Travel Book” and “Louis Vuitton Fashion Eye” a long time ago, but it wasn’t until 2016 that I met Otobong Nkanga, a Nigerian artist who was invited by Louis Vuitton to be a resident artist in Shanghai, that I began to have a deep understanding of such working style – one artist, one destination and one art book. I thought this was a meaningful and interesting project, perfectly echoing with our concept in building up a unique art museum in town.

The agreement with Louis Vuitton was obtained in January 2018. From there we had a little less than six months to organize the exhibition, which is a very short time, especially considering our ambition. To bring such a large number of pieces, nearly 300 art pieces, so far from France requires special care. Fortunately the dialogue with Louis Vuitton was pleasant and constructive throughout this preparation.

"Tokyo" series by Natsko Seki
“Tokyo” series by Natsko Seki

Q: Were you afraid that this exhibition, because of Louis Vuitton, would be very commercial? Some even said it would be a display of the LV bags?

A: Frankly, although our team preferred the art collection of Louis Vuitton’s Travel Book, yet we also took some advice from some artists involved in this project. In their eyes, the publishing house of Louis Vuitton was very professional in selecting the artists whether renowned or emerging, all of them are quite creative with strong personal styles.

Also this project selects the right destination for the right artist based on the special trait of the artists and their artworks. Each artist creates nearly 100 paintings during their artist residence, and later these paintings will be published in an album.

The aim of the Pearl Art Museum was to create an exhibition about the artists who participated in the Travel Book collection. It was therefore very clear to us, from the beginning, to launch a project not about Louis Vuitton products, but rather on an ambitious artistic publishing project. Louis Vuitton understood our expectations and they gave us the freedom and trust for the exhibition.

Q: What’s your interpretation of reading and walking?

A: Let me use the saying by Dong Qichang, an ancient Chinese calligrapher and painter: “Artistic conception is not something to be acquired by learning, it is known by the time of one’s birth and predestined by fortune. Nevertheless, one can still benefit from learning. If one reads 10,000 books and walks 10,000 miles, he will be able to think out of the box, his mind will be naturally enriched, and his artistic concept will be fostered.”

Q: Among the 16 participating artists, who is your favorite?

A: I like all of them. The 16 artists reflect their different experience in their different destinations through their personal art language, ranging from Tokyo, New York, Paris, London to the North Pole and Iceland.

Q: What other activities will be organized during the exhibition?

A: There will be a series of art education projects. Many writers, cross-culture scholars and artists who have rich experience in traveling will be invited to hold lectures, salons and workshops under the themes of “travel and literature,” “travel of the art history” and “residence.”

The representatives of 16 international artists will also come to the museum and closely communicate with the visitors.

"Route 66" series by Thomas Ott
“Route 66” series by Thomas Ott
"New York" series by Jean-Phillippe Delhomme
“New York” series by Jean-Phillippe Delhomme