I recently had the pleasure of taking my first trip to France. What an experience! We started in Paris. First stop- the Louvre. I went on a tour with a friend of mine, so the way that things worked out on that first day, we had an hour and a half to explore one of the greatest museums in the world. I took off and made a beeline for the items I knew I wanted to see, The Venus of Samothrice, the Mona Lisa (what a rock star), the Wedding at Cana, The Seated Scribe, in addition to the egyptian sculptures and artifacts and the monumental paintings by Delacroix. Day 1. After an all night flight, already thrilling but exhausting.
The morning of Day Two, we headed off to the Palace of Versailles to discover all of its royal opulence. Begun in 1660 it began life as a hunting lodge in the woods. Over the years into the reign of Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette, it became the largest palace in Europe and the seat of absolute political power during their reign to the French Revolution. The building and grounds are of obvious historical significance and the care and up keeping serves to give one the sense of what it must have been like to live as a French Monarch in such and incredibly beautiful and palatial palace. As I walked a round, I got lost in my imaginings of royal life among such finery.
But, suddenly, my musings became rudely interrupted when I started noticing among all the gilded frames, fine crystals and tapestries- large over sized, childlike, pop-art sculptures by Portuguese pop artist Joana Vasconcelos. The sculptures were interesting, fun, whimsical, and bright. "But". I kept asking myself, "what were they doing here?"
Our guide Thierry, told us that in 2008, the director of Versailles, thought it would be a great idea to bring in modern art to show that Versaille was still alive and not just a relic of the past. MIss Vasconcelos, follows other famous pop artists like Jeff Coons and Takashi Murakami's in installing their unique brand of art throughout the palace and grounds.
Pop- art refers to the POPular culture. It lifts up items and ideas of the current society and elevates them to being high art. I can see the humor in these pieces on their own I can see the comments being made about opulent life in an opulent place. I can see the comments being made about materialism and sexism as it was played out in 17th century life in this amazing example of power and wealth. I get the art. But did it belong here?
I hated its presence. I was angry. As an artist, you might think that I would appreciate art wherever it showed up, but I couldn't help but feel assaulted by its presence everywhere that I encountered it. I had come to see a beautiful, historical, magnificent piece of history, gleaming and astonishing all on its own, and my ruminations about the things that might have taken place in these rooms, in the beautiful garden, kept being interrupted by what felt like commercials on TV- inescapable annoyances. It was like graffiti.
I don't understand why in a place like France, so rich in beauty and history, home to HUNDREDS of fine museums in which to hold art exhibits, felt it necessary to display these works in this place. It may be what this director wanted, but why would the French put up with it without an outcry? Would the American people welcome Christo wrapping the Statue of Liberty or Jeff coons plopping one of his giant blow up dogs in the chamber of Independence Hall? I don't know.
I like the work, but I feel there is a time and place for it, and Versailles was just not that time or place. In my humble opinion. I invite you to weigh in...