On January 2, my last day of my New Year’s adventure in Paris, I took the RER in the morning to see the Jeff Koons exhibit at the Château de Versailles. Koons is an American artist who is best known for his gigantic metallic sculptures that some argue are more kitsch than art. However, I love the boldness of his work and what better setting than Versailles for opulent and tacky sculpture? There can’t be a more lavish setting for a retrospective of Koons’ art than the palace of one of history’s most ostentatious figures, Louis XIV. I’d heard there was some controversy over the exhibit, as displaying a glass case of vacuum cleaners created by an American artist in the Queen’s Antechamber isn’t exactly going to please everyone. Although I’m sure there’s some sort of comment about feminine domesticity that could be wrenched out of that and turned into a thesis. Koons said that vacuum cleaners are “womb-like,” so go start writing. Apparently Louis XIV’s heir even tried to get the show stopped early, stating it was “a desecration and an attack on the respect due to the dead.” Well, the show was definitely popular, as its run was extended to January 9, 2009 from December 14, 2008 and attendance was heavy.
I thought I was going to be smart and get to the palace early enough that I would have all day to visit. But when I got there, the line was already a winding mass of tourists and the air was freezing. I stood in this line for two hours and was still in it when my friends who had slept late showed up. Thank goodness I’d charged my iPod and worn warm socks. Not that I could feel my feet by the time I got inside anyway. And there were absolutely no Versailles employees managing this line and very few signs about what you were in standing in line for. It was some of the most ridiculous organization I’ve ever seen. I’ve been to Versailles twice before, but this is the only time I felt like smashing my head on the cobblestones before I’d gotten inside. Of course, once we were inside the ticket vending building, there were only four people selling tickets and the person I bought from had no change. Is there no money in Versailles? Well, we finally did get in and went straight to the exhibit, which had 17 of Koons’ sculptures in the Royal Apartments and the Hall of Mirrors.
More hilarious organization issues came when we saw yet another endless line for the audio guides, where only one person was working. Maybe they need employees and I should be applying. The exhibit itself was crowded. That’s an understatement; it was like being in a mosh pit where everywhere has a camera and instead of a band there are neo-pop sculptures to shove towards. I’ve never really considered traveling to another country for Christmas break and wasn’t expecting there to be so many tourists at Versailles in winter. Most of the garden is dead and the fountains aren’t on. Then again, you don’t get to see lobsters hanging from Versailles’ ceilings everyday.
I especially enjoyed that a silver bust Jeff Koons made of Louis XIV in 1986 was on display and a lot of the visitors walked right past it (or pushed, keep the mass of people in mind) not realizing that it wasn’t part of the palace’s permanent collection. I’m sure that Koons could never have imagined he would be exhibiting his work in Louis XIV’s castle in 23 years. I bet that Louis XIV would have enjoyed the silver bust, as it conveys the write level of pride and reflects the sun nicely.
Another good moment was the “Moon” in the Hall of Mirrors. It fit in well enough not to distract from the beautiful and famous room and it was cool to see yourself with the hall behind you in its face.
I hope that despite the controversy, France continues to display international contemporary art in its museums and monuments. It really reinvigorates the spaces and, if done right, shouldn’t ruin the significance of the space either. I should start a petition for Petah Coyne at Sainte-Chapelle or Martin Creed at Fontainebleau. I think the Versailles exhibit was successful, although I’d be curious what people who hadn’t come to see the art thought. Did it add to their experiences or did it detract? I hope someone working at Versailles took surveys. Although considering that I saw no museum guards in the exhibit, I’m not counting on it.
After the exhibit, we walked down to the Bassin d’Apollon in the Versailles gardens. For some reason, no one had drained the fountains so they were all full of ice covered with a thin layer of snow. The sun was setting and casting long shadows, including ours which I’ve documented here. We then caught the RER back to Paris and later that night had dinner at a fondue restaurant. The next day I took the train back to Valence. It was a great four days in Paris and I think I could spend years in that city without seeing everything. I’m looking forward to my next adventures there.