Moscow’s Red Square has seen its share of strange stuff over the centuries, from medieval public executions to artistic self-mutilations. But a giant Louis Vuitton suitcase took many Muscovites completely by surprise.
The 9-meter high, 30-meter long building covered in iconic gold-on-brown pattern erected last week is to host a historic exhibition.
Opening on December 2, the ‘L'Ame du Voyage’ expo features “25 historical items invigorated by 12 contemporary art video installations,” its webpage says. The exhibits are meant to demonstrate how the luxury firm’s designs “have evolved through time, maintaining links with iconic travellers and designers.”
In addition to giving visitors a glimpse at Louis Vuitton’s history, the six-week event would further boost the company’s image by donating all proceedings to a charity.
The humanitarian and educational angle however is missed by many Russians, who were outraged to see what they call a piece of blatant commercial in the country’s heartland.
“The Red Square has special status. It’s a sacred place of the Russian state. There are symbols that must not be trivialized or besmeared, because the future of the state depends on it,” Russian MP Sergey Obukhov said.
As a member of the Communist party, he may have an extra grudge towards the trunk expo, which is located just next to the mausoleum of Communist leader Vladimir Lenin. The fact was not missed by some sarcastic Russian bloggers, who were quick to publish images of the historic site Photoshopped to feature the Louis Vuitton monogrammed pattern.
The sentiment against the controversial exhibition seems to resound on the different sides of the political spectrum. His fellow MP Andrey Sidyakin from the ruling United Russia party said he has launched an inquiry into the installation’s approval process with Russia’s Federal Anti-monopoly Service.
There’s no clarity on which government structure sanctioned the
erection of Louis Vuitton’s enormous suitcase on Red Square.
“The Kremlin commandant’s office for sure has nothing to do with it as it’s only responsible for security,” Sergey Devyatov, advisor to the head Federal Protective Service, told the Lifenews.ru website.
The Ministry of Culture said that it did not license the structure, with its deputy press-secretary, Elizaveta Loseva, stressing: “We, generally, have no idea what this is. It must be the responsibility of the Presidential Administration, not the Ministry of Culture.”
But Viktor Khrekov, the press-secretary of the Presidential Property Administration said that “we didn’t give this permission. I can’t even tell you, who did.”
Meanwhile, Mikhail Kusnirovich, one of the top managers of the GUM department store, which stands on the other side of Red Square opposite the Kremlin, stressed that the builders of Louis Vuitton’s suitcase got all the required paperwork.
The structure “will be in place till January. I can’t remember the exact dates, but it’ll be there approximately till the middle of the month,” Kusnirovich told the RIA Novosti news agency.
He said that the extravagant exterior of the edifice should be perceived as an exhibition pavilion and nothing more.
“They’re always so deliberately bulky, but they come and go,” Kusnirovich, who is the chairman of GUM’s Strategic Development Committee, explained.
But many ordinary Russians aren’t at all ready to treat the trunk as just an exhibition site, alleging that graft and greed played a crucial part in its erection.
“To get money they’ll rent out the mausoleum and the Kremlin as a club soon,” one angry individual tweeted.
“Somebody take the drugs away from those behind this madness!” another one plead.
“Louis Vuitton sells its outdated collections right on Red Square,” yet another caustic comment said.
The company has its record of gigantic ads. Back in 2011 it erected a 20-meters high, 4-meter long mock-trunk in a wealthy district in China’s Shanghai.
The construction drew fire from local officials, because the city’s regulations said ads cannot be higher than 9 meters tall. And local residents voiced concern that the trunk may be unsafe for the public, because it occupied too much space in the sidewalk and forced people to walk on the road.
The construction was eventually dismantled.
Red Square is often used for public celebrations like New Year, when thousands of tourists and some locals flock to the iconic site to hear in person the ringing of the Kremlin clock in the countdown to the turn of the year.
It is also where the annual military parade celebrating the end of World War II takes place.
But more recently it was mentioned in the media due to a controversial shock artist’s performance, who stripped naked and nailed his scrotum to its pavement in a gesture of political protest.
Unlike Louis Vuitton’s event, the self-mutilation performance lasted for less than an hour, but it caused its share of controversy as well. The general reaction however was closer to morbid fascination rather than the irritation prevailing on social media now.