Chanel's Touring Pavilion: Culture or Commercial? (How About Both?)

July 28, 2008, 12:08 PM EDT

Zaha Hadid's temporary art container for Chanel is made with fiber-reinforced plastic, aluminum, and steel.

Rendering: Zaha Hadid Architects

Last week The New York Times revealed when and where Chanel's touring art exhibit will land in New York: It opens October 20 in Central Park's Rumsey Playfield and will run through November 9. The 7,500-square-foot pavilion, dubbed Mobile Art and created by London architect Zaha Hadid, was first revealed last year and has already sparked a debate over whether the project is too commercial.

According to The Times, the fashion company is donating at least $1 million to the Central Park Conservancy for use of the site during the promotion and will pay another $400,000 to the city. When questioned by The Times, parks commissioner Adrian Benepe brushed off potential criticism, saying, “Everything has a sponsor.” But according to Metro New York, some park advocates fear Chanel's mobile pop-up is a “troubling trend” toward commercialization of public parks.

For some media outlets the project is a cleverly disguised promotion that plays up to the city's love of public art. New York magazine's fashion blog The Cut describes the pavilion as “delightful,” while Olafur Eliasson's pieces are nothing more than “dribbly waterfalls.” Meanwhile the mag's culture blog, Vulture, dismisses critics and points out that this is the first the city has seen from the Pritzker Prize-winning architect. And Gawker sums up its take with the headline: “It's Not a Chanel Ad If It's Art.”

Mobile Art has already made stops in Hong Kong and Tokyo and is scheduled to travel to London, Moscow, and Paris.

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