Jeff Koons, king of neo-pop and Louis XIV in Versailles
Photo from Palagret
The Château of Versailles has thrown caution to the wind, opening up its palatial apartments and gardens to American pop-artist Jeff Koons. The 53-year old new Yorker, often referred to as "the king of kitsch", has installed 17 of his sculptures around the chateau as part of the first Versailles Off exhibition
A bright red inflatable lobster hangs chandelier-like from the ceiling in the Salon de Mars, while a metal rabbit suggestively munches a carrot in the Salon d’Abondance.
Visitors can see the infamous Michael Jackson and Bubbles, a porcelain sculpture of the singer and his chimpanzee, rubbing shoulders with a statue of Louis XIV and savour the 3-metre high stainless-steel red Hanging Heart which fetched a record 16 million Euros last November and which made Jeff Koons the most expensive living artist alongside Britain’s Lucien Freud.
Clearly happy to be within the palace walls, Koons told reporters the exhibition was “a way to be more profound”.
A daring first
This is the first time Koons has been exhibited in France and the palace is thrilled to have bagged the star of the pop-art world.
Former culture minister and chairman of Versailles, Jean-Jacques Aillagon, told RFI a majestic and renowned place like Versailles needed someone big. Koons was just that.
While some visitors have expressed discomfort seeing metal dogs and inflatable lobsters in the ornate palatial apartments, Koons said the mix of ancient and modern is far from incongruous.
“These are the salons that really were most public. It seemed appropriate. The work wants to be engaged and participate in a dialogue” he told journalists at the opening press conference.
There’s little doubt the exhibition has got people dialoguing. One Parisian visitor at the opening objected to the garish colours. “Everything’s so bright and shiny” she moaned.
But for Italian art lover, Giuseppe, the exhibition was thrilling. “I admire the chateau for doing this. It’s bold. Just what art should be”.
For curator Laurent Lebon, Koons is not just an important artist and therefore worthy of attention, but is ideally suited to Versailles.
"This exhibition shows Jeff Koons as a major classical artist. Throughout his work you see precision, symmetry, rigour and rationality. In each room, you’ll see the major features of classicism”.
But that hasn’t been enough to calm some critics. Arnaud-Aaron Upinsky from the National Writer’s Union helped launch a petition calling for the exhibition to be scrapped, saying it was “sacrilegious and insulting to the symbols of the Republic and its art”.
Jean-Jacques Aillagon has dismissed the criticism saying it was his job to keep the palace vibrant. He also backed Koons’ presence citing the sculpture Split Rocket, an 11-ton topiary sculpture of a cartoon animal’s head, covered with pots of flowers.
“The artist is asking the same question as Le Nôtre [the landscape architect that designed Versailles]. How can we make art using vegetal matter? Koons replies differently but … it shows how pertinent Koons’ work is”.
Gardeners at Versailles helped install the sculpture and are in charge of maintaining the 100,000 flowers used in Split Rocket. A collaborative effort between Koons and Versailles’ staff, “just like Louis XIV used to instruct his own artisans” added Jean-Jacques Aillagon, savouring the parallel.
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