Kings, Queens & Koons

november 26, 2008.

While Damien Hirst's diamonds & platinum skull continues to disco-glitter - 'for the love of god' - in a tiny & dark 'cave' in the largely dismantled Amsterdam Rijksmuseum, a selection of seventeen kandy-colored works by american postpop- & kitsch-art star Jeff Koons, who together with Hirst counts among the living artists for the possession of whose works a select group of well-to-do's are ready, willing & able to spend significant parts of their fortunes, are spread out over the immense former domain of the Sun King, the Château de Versailles. At little over twenty kilometers southwest of Paris, the Versailles domain is the prime symbol of France's former royalty's power, opulence and grandeur, from the 17th until the end of the 18th century, when, caught in an unstoppable spiral of decadence and extravagance, it lead the country into ruins.

After Jan Fabre in the Louvre and Hirst at the Rijks, Koons at Versailles makes for a third high-profile example of the current trend to present contemporary visual art in a classical context, to make the new & now enter (this is the curators talking) into a viable dialogue with our western cultural heritage, and at the same time (here's the manager speaking) 'trick' a younger and 'cooler' audience into come and visit these classical cultural strongholds. In for a penny, in for a pound _ or, as one says in dutch: "Wie A zegt moet ook B zeggen" ... So when I got back to Paris, we made visiting Koons@Versailles into a saturday family trip for the 22nd of november.

It was a nice day, lots of blue sky in between the clouds, but very windy and sort of cold ...

koons versailles koons versailles

Unlike dutch museums, most french ones will let you take pictures à volonté, until you drop ... So here I will let you have a little more pictures than usual, and somewhat less words than you are used to.

koons versailles

The selection of works made for Koons' first retrospective in France is a safe one, suitable for all ages, and far from intending to 'shock', be 'provocative' or 'subversive' in whatever way. The meticulously executed meta-kitsch at Versailles doesn't so much enter into a dialogue with the decorative taste of the Sun King and his entourage, as that it actually almost comes across as a not unlikely one among possible contemporary transpositions ...

The stainless steel "Louis XIV" (1986), standing on a table in the Mercury Salon, is an obvious example. The polished blinking of the king's bust's heavy but sort of ignoble materiality makes for an interesting counterpoint to the salon's history: its walls used to be adorned by tables, mirrors, firedogs and chandeliers of solid silver, until, in 1689, Louis XIV was forced to melt these down to finance one of his wars ...

koons balloon dog koons louis XIV
koons rabbit koons pink panther

First of the two highlights of the exposition I found the "Large Vase of Flowers" that Koons put in the Queen's bedroom, next to her bed :

koons versailles

The 1991 sculpture, done in polychromed wood and part of the 'Made in Heaven' (fucking Cicciolina) series, is, both pictorially and conceptually, a nice and only dimly anachronistic completion of the abundantly decorated royal 'conception room', of which the explanatory text printed on a board posed in front of the royal bed proudly states that "royal birth took place here in public: nineteen 'Children of France' were born in this bed..."

louis XIV bed Apart from the "Hanging Heart" suspended in an alcove of the Queen's staircase, and two sculptures placed outside (the "Balloon Flower" in the Royal Court, and the "Split-Rocker" in the Orangerie) each of the works has been assigned to a different one of the "Grands Appartements du Roi et de la Reine", on the first floor of the central part of the palace.

There is no Koons in the room that has occupied the exact center of the palace from 1701 onwards: Louis XIV's bedchamber. The king's bedroom had an important ceremonial function, and it provided the setting for many of the events that made up the Sun King's day. The king's bed is its focal point, and with its guilded woodwork, heavy brocade embroidered in gold and four crest-topped corners, during our saturday's tour of the palace, it struck me as being Koonser than Koons himself ...

koons moon

The second highlight I found "Moon (Light Blue)" (1995-2000), a piece of high chromium stainless steel with transparent colored coating weighing 1.247 kg, which sits at the end of the recently restored 73 meters long Hall of Mirrors as a gigantic reflecting blue eye. Alien, but also strangely comforting, because of the subtle way in which its apparently simple but in fact highly elaborated curved forms and symmetries just ever so slightly top the unworldly symmetry and lavishness of its surroundings.

I was pleased to (re)discover "Michael Jackson and Bubbles" (1988) in the Venus Salon, still on record as 'the world's largest ceramic'. It reminded me of the stories about the chimpanzees being employed by the popstar at his Neverland Ranch for doing dusting and cleaning work, which in turn interested me as a fait divers in view of our performance late october for the monkeys in the parisian zoo (more about this in an upcoming entry) ...

koons versailles

All said and done, the five shiny metallic fake balloon-toy pieces are the really interesting part of this Koons@Versailles show. It is those that I will not easily forget. The bulbous "Balloon Flower (Yellow)" [1995-2000] sitting in the Royal Court and the giant "Balloon Dog (Magenta)" [1994-2000] standing, like a 20th century Trojan horse indeed, in the middle of the Hercules Salon; both modeled after the twisted-together balloon figures that children love so much, blown-up to nightmarish proportions. The "Moon (Light Blue)" [1995-2000] at the end Hall of Mirrors, the "Rabbit" [1986] in a glass case in the Abundance Salon and the "Hanging Heart (Red/Gold)" [1994-2006], suspended like an oversized girly pendant in the Queen's Staircase. Not only from afar, but even from nearby, they seem feather-light and fragile. Ready to float away. Or, maybe worse, easy to transform, along with a short but loud explosive 'bang', into a little heap of colored plastic remains, merely by a well-placed prick of a needle. All five of them radiate innocent beauty. They come with the seductive and vaguely erotic curves of fantasy figures from childhood dreams. But they are neither light, nor fragile. They are armour-plated surfaces that cover ... nothing ... A nothingness that's impossible to penetrate: the polished and colored stainless steel exteriors only reflect that what surrounds them. There is nothing but surface, surface that took an incredible amount of work and money to produce.
In the Versailles Palace, it is precisely this what is reflected.
Riches to riches ... surface to surface ...

It is impossible to ignore the laughable amounts of money that are involved. 'Laughable', because it is so much, that for anyone not used to dealing in such sums - and that I guess will be almost all of us - its meaning is purely abstract.
Maintenance alone of the Versailles domain has and continues to cost many times the enormous amounts that were 'wasted' in constructing it in the first place.
And a magenta/gold version of "Hanging Heart" was sold at Sotheby's last winter for $ 23.600.000,- . The red/gold version that is hanging in the Queen's staircase comes, together with about one third of the other sculptures on show, from the collection of the extremely wealthy french collector François Pinault, who also, being a key patron of the exhibition, is said to have laid down the bulk of the € 2.000.000,- necessary to make Koons@Versailles happen. This includes the production costs of € 1.000.000,- for the "Split-Rocker" that is proudly standing outside in the Orangerie, with its 170.000 petunia and geranium flowers and the internal water supply system for these plants ...
So of course there was some ado about this, as french media asked about possible conflicts of interest, and whether this show was maybe staged for the benefit of mr. Pinault, as it would surely considerably increase the market value of the Koons pieces in his collection?

I'd say, of course it is, and of course it isn't.

koons versailles

"Har$ as Split-Rocker" - Versailles, nov. 22nd, 2008

On a final note: bien sur that also here we had the 'usual' bunch of traditionalist protesters, who rallied outside the palace at the opening, and argued that inviting Koons, who "became famous by showing his penis in public", was an insult to Marie-Antoinette, to the symbols of the Republic and its art, and that the whole of this event ridiculed Versailles' grandeur and history - hence, a fortiori, that of France.

A protesting journalist was cited as stating that those rabbits and dogs don't belong in Versailles, but that they should be put up in Disneyland.
She was very wrong.
They are so much better here than they could ever be there.
In Disneyland they would have reflected nothing.

[ The Koons exhibition at the Château de Versailles can be visited until january 4th, 2009.
Most of the pictures illustrating this entry were made by Alec Schellinx. The photograph of "Moon (Light Blue)" in the Hall of Mirrors is © Studio Jeff Koons (used without permission); the small picture of the kings's bed I took from somewhere on the web.
Earlier related SB-entries: Damien Hirst @ Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam :: Jan Fabre @ the Louvre, Paris ]

tags: Versailles, postart, popart, postmodernism, Jeff Koons

# .283.

smub.it | del.icio.us | Digg it! | reddit | StumbleUpon

comments for Kings, Queens & Koons ... ::

Comments are disabled

« | »

our podcasts:

Raudio Podcast