Olafur Eliasson Will Take Over the Palace of Versailles This Summer
Will he be spared the controversy that Anish Kapoor has endured?
The Palace at Versailles has announced that Olafur Eliasson will display his artworks at the palace and its gardens this year. The Icelandic-Danish artist’s exhibition will be on view from June through October, following the well-received installations of contemporary art at the baroque symbol of absolute monarchy by Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos, and French artist Xavier Veilhan, and the very ill-received installation by Anish Kapoor which sparked controversy of unprecedented magnitude at the site last year.
But despite the vehement—and violent—polemics surrounding Kapoor’s installations in the royal gardens, the Palace of Versailles has not given up on contemporary art, and for his part, Eliasson—who admits he has never visited any of the previous contemporary art exhibitions at Versailles—is not concerned about causing controversy.
In an interview with Le Figaro, Eliasson stressed that “It is very important to host a public debate in this public space […] which includes all sensibilities and viewpoints. Our task is to provide a language in this debate, even among those who reject it.”
When pressed by the interviewer on whether last year’s controversy gave him pause before deciding to accept the invitation, Eliasson insisted that culture, not politics, prevails. “Art can not expect to practice only outside election time! Artists—and culture at large—are voices that shape society. They are not populism, they do not use fear and paranoia. France has always been incredibly strong on the issue of freedom of expression. Culture is its cornerstone. The controversy surrounding Kapoor should not be given disproportionate importance.”
Eliasson has recently brought his works to another baroque-era palace—the Belvedere Museum’s Winter Palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy, in Vienna—for the show “Baroque, Baroque,” held in collaboration with Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21). In the grand environs of this restored gem, Eliasson has made a site-specific intervention alongside twenty works installed throughout the spaces. Will his show at the Sun King’s palace have much in common with this recent feat?
“I think my research will point me in the direction of “Baroque, Baroque,” but I do not intend to make it a copy. Everything must be amplified because Versailles is so wide!” In fact, Eliasson has returned with his team to Versailles several times to take measurement.
He also revealed that Renaissance science will provide ample background for the creative process. In addition, he intends to make use of the spectacular gardens as well, and has his eyes set especially on the water fountains. After all, Eliasson often uses water in his works, most famously in his 2008 project, the New York City Waterfalls.
“France has always been kind to me,” he told Le Figaro, “I am pleased that my relationship with France is intensifying.” In fact, Catherine Pégard, president of Versailles, gave Eliasson his first ever show in France, in 2002 at the Modern Art Museum of the City of Paris.
Eliasson’s artworks have been present in the City of Lights ever since, with the Centre Pompidou acquiring artworks for their permanent collection, including his Little Sun—a solar-powered LED lamp developed with engineer Frederik Ottesen—which is in the museum’s design collection. He exhibited at the Frank Gehry designed Louis Vuitton Foundation in 2014, and last year, on the occasion of the COP21 conference in Paris, he installed the piece Ice Watch, a clock made from 12 pure ice hunks from Greenland, at the Place du Pantheon.
But whether or not the exhibition will open to the public in June remains to be seen. “I give myself time to think and create. I do not agree to deadlines,” he said.
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