Koons @ Chateau de Versailles
September 10 through December 14, 2008
A more iconoclastic combination of names could not have been conceived. Jeff Koons, America’s foremost contemporary master, who single-handedly re-defined contemporary art while simultaneously setting unprecedented auction records, appears in a rare and unlikely exhibition at France’s most popular royal attraction. The Chateau de Versailles, an artistic masterpiece that symbolizes France’s rich cultural patrimony, rarely witnesses a temporary display that rivals itself in reputation. Displays exhibited within the interior space of the Chateau happen once a decade.
The practical decision of choosing sculptures is evident; however, selecting a single artist (versus a retrospective of sorts) proves possibly more challenging. Jeff Koons, although perhaps an obvious choice in so far as contrasting style and reputation, is perhaps not the most popular option amongst the average viewer. The contrast is stark, brash, and almost annoyingly distracting. Although arguably interesting in size, color, shape, and aesthetic, his work is often characterized and understood as being kitsch; a typical example of overpriced, overrated art that gives contemporary art, at large, a critical and uncomplimentary reputation. The majority of everyday viewers gawk in surprise and astonishment rather than awe and amazement. Thus, the element of surprise lies more in this unseeingly mis-matched exhibition of space and artist rather than on Koons, as an artist independently worthy of such attraction.
The immediate choice of a sculptural exhibition aptly suits the practical space of the Chateau, both in its grand exterior gardens and interior rooms. Upon entering the grounds, one sees an unmistakable Koons sculpture: bright, big, bold, and basic in shape. The organic shape of the sculpture mimics that of a child-like balloon toy. On an unusually clear day, the palace (surrounded on three sides) is perfectly reflected in the undulating contours.
Inside the palace walls, a series of long corridors connect each of the chambres, with large rooms separated throughout. In these larger spaces one can walk fully around the freestanding works of art, semi-engaging with the three dimensional sculptures; however, in most cases the artwork appears as any other permanent piece displayed at Versailles: admired and awed from a mere distance. In most chambres, a simple velvet rope serves as the only separation between the artwork and crowds. Most of Koon’s works appear encased in glass protection, perhaps more of a symbolic gesture than physical protection.
The most impressive work appears inside a large salle on the second floor. Here, Koon’s Balloon Dog (Magenta), 1995-2000, stands in the centre of the space, enormous in person yet still somewhat diminished in scale compared to its location. The largest of Koon’s sculptures displayed at Versailles, Balloon Dog (on loan from Francois Pinault’s Foundation) is perhaps the most iconic of his styles. The brilliance of its color detracts one’s attention from the surrounding masterpieces, and yet one can only remain fixated on this ‘shinny’ blow-up, like a moth attracted to light.
Walking down the long corridor, Koon’s 1988 cynical commentary of Michael Jackson and Bubbles appears in the Salon de Venus. The whitened Jackson, dressed in gold and makeup, sits with a monkey on his lap; the disturbing similarity between monkey and human presents one message, however, the specific sexual interpretation of monkey on Jackson’s lap, arm wrapped around him, offers an obvious contemporary commentary of Jackson’s reputed actions. Either interpretation leaves the viewer feeling slightly disturbed, despite the ‘childlike quality’ of the sculpture.
Towards the end of the long corridor hangs one of Koon’s ‘kitschiest’ works. A balloon, blow-up lobster hangs like a chandelier. The artwork, entitled Lobster, 2003 hangs slightly lower than its complementary crystal chandelier. The juxtaposition presents an interesting idea; however, once again, most viewers laugh at the plastic blow up, unable to understand its depth or artistic merit.
This work best summarizes the Koons/Versailles exhibition. The majority of viewers attend the exhibition just to witness the shocking juxtaposition rather than fully comprehending or appreciating the artistic merit of Jeff Koons. Despite this, the exhibition still represents a rare example where the Chateau du Versailles is taken out of its traditional context and instead, temporarily transformed into a contemporary space: an unusual departure for France’s largest Chateau.
Raised in the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia, Tara Desjardins interest in art started at a young age. Tara holds a B.A degree in Art History from Skidmore College, with a minor in Middle Eastern studies, and an M.A. degree in Art Business from the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London. Tara has worked for the chief curators of Islamic art at the British Museum and the Freer Gallery at the Smithsonian Institute. In addition, she has also worked as the press director at the Sherry French Gallery, New York City. Tara is currently an editorial assistant at Parkstone International as well as a Paris-based freelance writer specializing in Contemporary Arabic art. email@example.com
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