Back in high school I was cast as Louis XIV in “The Three Musketeers.” That was at the height of my French class obsession and I was really mad that I didn’t get to actually speak any French as the King of France. Needless to say, since that play I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for the guy. He liked ridiculous gold gilded stuff, spending way too much time and money on his over the top wardrobe, and getting lots of portraits painted of himself. I can relate. You can’t really be into Louis XIV without being kind of into Versailles. It’s the physical embodiment of Louis’ love of garishly lavish French excess. I spent a brief portion of my life being mildy obsessed with Marie Antoinette as well. My desire to watch the Sophia Coppola film was largely influenced by the fact that it was actually filmed at/in Versailles. So today as I walked through the hall of mirrors (gallerie des glaces) I couldn’t help but think “that lucky bitch.” Kirsten Dunst, that is. She got to hang out at Versialles and film a movie there. That whole cast and crew had an all access pass to this amazing Chateau.
Unlike me. I was crammed into the place with thousands of Japanese/Italian/Australian/American tourists(the Italians were the rudest, just sayin'.) I could barely see where I was going, the majority of the castle was roped off and of the rooms you could enter, ¾ of the room itself was inaccessible. I know, I know, it was my own fault for going on the Saturday after New Year’s. I had initially decided to combat my impatient tendencies and hold off visiting Versailles until the weather got nicer. Much of the splendor is found our in the vast gardens and I wanted to enjoy a nice summer picnic next the bubbling fountains instead of freezing to death next to a frozen pond. But I had an excuse for going today. On our way back from Amsterdam I noticed a poster in the train station that wasn’t at any of the metros I had stopped at. It simply read “JEFF KOONS VERSAILLES.” Today was the last day of the show which I only found out about a week ago so it was now or never and I figured that if I was going to see Versailles at some point anyways, I might as well see it with some artwork that I had never witnessed in person thrown in the mix. I’m not the biggest Jeff Koons freak but when I saw those words together it just made too much sense to me. A contemporary pop artist, Koons was one of those guys that came up in my art classes at UC all the time. A lot of people loved to hate him, while others were hardcore fans. The artist’s esthetic is somewhere along the lines of garish kitsch. I think Louis XIV would have been a big fan. Apparently, so did some guys who have started a program to bring contemporary art into Versailles.
Matthias had never heard of Koons but was interested so he showed me the way to the Chateau, just beyond the western edge of Paris. There was no extra entrance fee to enter (just the regular 13.50euros which allows you access to one section of the castle only.) So I purchased deux billets and we were on our way. The pieces were scattered throughout the majority up the upper level rooms. These included ballrooms, the hall of mirrors, and the king and queens bedrooms. It was really creepy how well a few of the pieces seemed to fit into the scenery. In fact, in the queen’s bedroom, amongst the yards and yards of thick floral brocade and white fleathery plumes I couldn’t quite figure out where the Koons piece was, or if there was one at all. Then I spotted the vase: And as we walked past the giant topiary “split rocker” I had a hard time imagining the space without it. Although a bit more obvious, another one of my favorites was this inflatable lobster, hanging opposite an opulent crystal chandelier in a long ballroom. I don't think many people were there for the Koons show and it was interesting to overhear the conversations regarding the work. There wasn't a whole lot of explanantion offered to the visitors as to why these strange objects were there. I'm really glad we got this chance to see the work and the place in the context of one another. I'm also looking forward to a less crowded, and warmer second trip in June.
p.s. I stole all of these images from google. I didn't think my camera would meet a very warm reception so I left it at home but next time I'll make sure to bring it along as even flash photography is permitted everywhere on the grounds.