Monday, October 6, 2008

let them eat cake

This is a Jeff Koons sculpture. This is the courtyard of Versailles. I am in heaven.

I have always been interested in texts (English major!) - especially when superimposed upon another text. And here, quite by accident, I stumbled upon an exhibit that very well might be the most profound commentary I have personally encountered in my young, naive life. Jeff Koons, according to my lovely friend who happens to be an ardent aficionado of his, is the highest grossing artist alive and is a kind of clash between Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp. His work is loud, stark, and kitchy - one of his works features a large, gold-leafed ceramic of Michael Jackson and the monkey, Bubbles, reclining together among scattered flowers (a little unsettling) and his Hanging Heart sold at Sotheby's recently for $23.6 million.

Love him or hate him, Koons' work has made definite ripples in the contemporary art world. Now the waves have crashed upon Versailles.

My visions of Versailles before I disembarked the metro RER were based, as expected, on my very basic knowledge of French history and a variety of novels and films, particularly Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. The grandeur and splendor of the building's exterior and the grounds were quite up to par with the high expecations that I had coming in. But what I hadn't expected was to see, amidst the high ceilings, goldleaf detail, elaborate wallpaper, and dazzling chandeliers, were:

an inflatable lobster hanging in lieu of a chandalier

an enormous, hot pink balloon dog

or the reflective "Moon" in the Hall of Mirrors.

It was extreme simplistic, contemporary art situated within the extreme lavish, French decorative style. The contrast was outrageous. The commentary, direct and precise. One of the pieces, which I did not get a photo of, was entitled "Ushering in Banality" and consisted of three cherubic-looking children pushing a plump, pink pig foward. This piece was displayed in one of the many drawing rooms that was bedecked in splendor - the frescos of Greek goddesses on the ceiling, the thick, luxurious wallpaper, the plush upholstered furniture, and the wide open, hardwood floor.


I think if I had just gone to see plain old Versailles (and yes, I can acknowledge the great contradiction in that statement), I would have missed the real significance of it - it wouldn't have been as sharp or clear to me. Like those who believe that the best way to know something is, in turn, to know its opposite, I don't think I could have truly understood Versailles and all that it is and stands for without Koons' vibrant kitch that reflected upon its very surfaces a new definition of this palace of palaces.

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