Friday, September 12, 2008

French Horrified by Pop Art at Versailles

Balloon Dog 1999-2000

(Photos by Ed Alcock of NYT)

An invasion by an American pop art retrospective at the Palace of Versailles has the French clutching their pearls and hurling furious words of lament. I lose track of the various Louis' , but each in their own was left an architectural imprint. Since Louis XIII built the original Ch√Ęteau at Versailles for his hunting excursions, it was not at all posh at the time of his early death when XIV was five years old. The Sun King, Louis XIV, cut a deal to build a city Versailles where the big real estate lots were free except for the need to build the exact house designed by his palace architect ensuring the neighborhood was a seventeenth century planned community. Great idea because he moved the entire kingdom apparatus to Versailles and needed it to look kingly royal surrounded by a great city. The French know city planning and landscaping. In The United States, Lafayette's work is on display in the capital's layout and its architecture thanks to George Washington. That's why new age art hanging amongst some of France's proudest treasures has the National Union of Writers of France both agape and aghast at the effrontery. France has the contemporary exhibit until 14 December.
Versailles is also a World Heritage Site, one of under a thousand in the entire world that wait years to gain the prestigious cultural honor. Now its got 21st century pop art littered throughout its auspicious gilt-filled rooms and the multitude of mirrors reflect the horror. Louis no. 14 has a room with a portrait of him and one of his grandson which are considered masterpieces. Artist Jeff Koons, cheekily placed his self portrait in that room which frankly unless you have heard French curses, one may not appreciate how much that rankled. Not sure which a tourist would see first, but the various vacuum cleaners in a clear cubed tier, New Hoover Convertibles (1981-1987) in the Queen's (think Marie Antoinette) sitting room outside her chamber may have set off the furious imprecations as Koons described it as womb-like. The juxtapositions are part of the grand palace show. Michael Jackson and his monkey, Bubbles, (1998) are done in a rococo style with over the top golden bling and a metaphoric plaster white face for both encased in a clear plastic cube that just makes one's mouth form a perfect O. I guess that was the full intent until one enters the sunny room full of french doors and Louis XV signing a Peace treaty and partakes of the topless Paris Hilton-styled bombshell with an artfully placed flamingo pink boa, then your jaw just unhinges as one figures out what to look at first, world history or globe trotting hotties in a piece nicknamed Pink Panther (1988).
Koons' sculpted rabbits and dogs "don't belong at the palace of Versailles, they belong at Disneyland," said journalist and radio host Anne Brassie.
Arnaud-Aaron Upinsky, the president of a writers' union, agreed. "This exhibit is sacrilegious and insulting to the symbols of the Republic and its art," he said, wearing a velvet-and-gold-colored crown at the protest.
Koons said he has no intention of mocking the palace that Louis XIV transformed from a hunting lodge into a symbol of royal power in the 17th century.
"I'm so grateful for the opportunity to show in Versailles. I have complete respect for Versailles and I have complete respect for each individual that's coming to Versailles," Koons told reporters.
Pink Panther(1988) & Split Rocker (2000)

There are 17 pieces of pop art to see placed throughout the sumptuous palais and on the manicured grounds with its own private lake. Tens of thousands of flower pots gave their all to make up the behemoth entitled Split Rocker. The lobster hanging by a red string amidst some world class art is not to be missed. This is not the first time it's been done by Koons. Ballon Dog also made a splash at the Palazzo in Venice's Grand Canal. Seems continental Europe can't get enough of the art of auspicious staging. Seven million people a year visit Versailles in its regular state, this will pull in a few more Looky Lou's for sure.

Versailles, in its natural state of elegantly named Salons and Grand Apartments fit for royal politics can be appreciated in person or for a good deal less. Available is the October release of Versailles: A Biography of A Place at 20.00 or the must have coffee table art book from Jean-Marie Perouse De Montclos for $60 in simply titled, Versailles.

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