Purple Magazine
— F/W 2015 issue 24


no more reverie



Diogenes the Cynic was basking in the morning sunlight when Alexander the Great appeared before him. The King of Macedonia asked the philosopher if there was anything he could do for him. “Yes,” replied Diogenes. “Stand out of my light.”

Throughout the summer of 2015, visitors to the Palace of Versailles and its grounds will no longer have the opportunity to contemplate the exquisite perspective conceived by Le Nôtre in order to create the sensation of infinite space. Instead, the sublime vista will be obstructed by Anish Kapoor’s 60-meter long installation, Dirty Corner. Should visitors attempt to admire the sight of the palace itself from the gardens, they will come face to face with an inverted reflection of themselves in one of the Anglo-Indian artist’s trademark giant distorting mirrors. Those discovering the palace’s estate in the summer of 2009 were forever deprived of the majestic first impression one has of the Court of Honor, as Xavier Veilhan’s Le Carrosse — a 15-meter-long purple sculpture — was parked in the middle of it. In 2012, we had the good fortune of not being able to enjoy the Hall of Mirrors intended to dazzle the Sun King’s guests, because Joana Vasconcelos had appropriated the space to house a mass of saucepans that formed a giant pair of high heels.

It is, of course, common knowledge that the Versailles Château symbolizes the Grand Siècle, the quintessence of French style, a combination of classicism and Baroque, desired by Louis XIV to extol his glory and that of the absolute monarchy he had established. The skills of the most talented architects, painters, decorators, and landscape gardeners of their time were summoned to ensure the grandeur and harmony of the ensemble.

Three hundred years later, a visit to Versailles provides the chance to plunge into a world utterly removed from our own, an era presided over by the aesthetic, political, and philosophical concerns of 17th-century France. For the modern-day visitor, Versailles is the most enthralling time machine, taking visitors on a journey that is as much a change of scene as any far-flung destination.

However, since 2008, the meditative journey proposed by the UNESCO World Heritage site has been snatched from us during the summer months. A program presenting contemporary art on the palace’s estate hijacks its most emblematic spaces each year between June and November. This annual event is fast becoming a milestone on the CVs of high-profile contemporary artists. Following in the footsteps of inaugurating artist Jeff Koons, the artists Xavier Veilhan, Takashi Murakami, Lee Ufan, Joana Vasconcelos, Giuseppe Penone, Bernar Venet, and Anish Kapoor have now all “done” Versailles. According to the château’s website, the aim is to initiate “conversations between major works … of the Baroque era and the contemporary vision of today’s artists,” whereby “these encounters, sometimes emphasizing contrast and synthesis, show Versailles as a living site always open to creativity.”

Putting aside the misguided notion that André Le Nôtre would have been able to, or for that matter, would have wished to initiate dialogue with Anish Kapoor, or likewise that Charles Le Brun would converse with Joana Vasconcelos, the central idea at play is that these “conversations” have the virtue of maintaining Versailles as a living space. In other words, only the divine power of contemporary art can breathe life where it was apparently lacking. Are we actually claiming that, without this presence, Versailles would no longer be living? If we follow this line of reasoning, did these temporary exhibitions resuscitate a site that was hitherto lifeless prior to 2008?

Nowadays, only the here and the now are considered alive. Imbued with this chauvinism of the present moment, there is a sense that, without any degree of real consideration, we ought to constantly challenge the past over which the suspicion of narrow-mindedness and boredom hangs. These “encounters” displace Versailles from its potentially negative past, with which it would be better not to rub shoulders in its natural state. During these exhibitions, there is no choice but to experience a Versailles invaded and transformed by the signs of our times. Whereas to truly grasp the otherworldliness of the past, visitors should be guided by this journey back to a time to which the site invites them. Instead of allowing everyone to wander as they please, the exhibition organizers have created a series of blinding, full-frontal flashes.

We are in the 21st century, lest we forget. Even at Versailles, a monument so perfectly self-sufficient in the fine-tuned equilibrium of its arrangement, we seemingly require “distraction” and to be strong-armed back to the present. We decree entertainment for all and sundry — at any cost. We outlaw the poetic giddiness one might derive from simply contemplating immobility. And we proclaim, “Death to the past!” Long gone is the right to imagine, to dream, and to lose oneself in the sumptuous grounds of Versailles.

Is it really possible to experience the majesty of the King’s Grand Apartment once Jeff Koons’s Balloon Dog’s three meters of ironic, fuchsia-colored metal are ensconced in the middle of the Hercules Salon? In these intrusive conditions can we validly suggest a dialogue? Is it not instead a pounding monologue? Versailles, this estate for all, now finds itself sidelined to the point where it acts as an overly flattering backdrop to contemporary art whose gaudy presence upstages the authentic experience of the place itself.

There are those, of course, who revel in such delights. Some will no doubt argue that the disparity between setting and object is fascinating, that the juxtaposition per se is the “whole point,” that the mere presence of these incongruous objects enables returning visitors to explore Versailles with new eyes. It’s probably best to content oneself with this trivial dialectic exercise because it offers precious little else. The unadulterated experience of the past has been done away with, and all that remains is the irruption of contemporary art into a historic space. It is a turnkey mechanical clash somewhat akin to a department-store marketing strategy of hosting endless “special events” to entice the punters.

No more escapism, no more reverie. The miraculous interlude as promised by Versailles is now little more than a day trip to an exhibition, packed full of the stuff already saturating the modern world. Ultimately, this interference speaks volumes of this arrogant era that cannot bear to be nourished by any source other than itself.

[Table of contents]

F/W 2015 issue 24

Table of contents

purple EDITO

purple NEWS

purple BEST of the SEASON





purple BEAUTY

purple LOVE

purple TRAVEL


purple SEX

purple NIGHT

purple STORY


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