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Takashi Murakami's Brightly-Colored Pop Art Arrives at the Château de Versailles
Japanese artist Takashi Murakami poses for photographers in front of his sculpture entitled "Oval Buddha", not seen, at the Versailles Palace gardens, west of Paris, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010. Murakami's exhibition will run from Sept. 14 until Dec. 12, 2010. AP Photo/Christophe Ena.

By: Jean-Jacques Aillagon and Laurent Le Bon

PARIS.- Versailles has always brought together the greatest creative artists. Louis XIV brought Louis Le Vau, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, Robert de Cotte, Charles Le Brun, André Le Nôtre, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Michel-Richard de Lalande, Molière, Carlo Vigarini, François Francine and Gianlorenzo Bernini, who created great works here. Subsequent rulers invited Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Jean-Marc Nattier, Jean-Henri Riesener, Richard Mique, Jacques-Ange Gabriel, Hubert Robert, André Ernest Modeste Grétry and many others. Louis Philippe, who established the Musée de l’Histoire de France (Museum of the History of France) at Versailles, made use of the most illustrious artists of his era. We owe some of the masterpieces of the Galerie des Batailles and the Salles des Croisades, to such artists as Eugène Delacroix, Horace Vernet and Louis-Ernest Meissonnier.

It is in keeping with this spirit of openness to creativity that the Etablissement Public du Musée et du Domaine National de Versailles now wants to allow great artists of our own era to work at the locations under its care.

Following the international success of the exhibition Jeff Koons Versailles in 2008, and the remarkable creation of site-specific works by Veilhan in 2009, it is now the turn of Takashi Murakami who is invited this year to present his work at Versailles. By creating new works for this occasion, which will be added to existing ones from his repertoire, he will continue Versailles’ long tradition of openness to creativity.

Murakami is one of the most celebrated artists of our time. The combination of his fame with that of the Château of Versailles will show the degree to which, despite the centuries that separate them, the masters of the past are able to enter into dialogue with those of the present, and vice versa. Murakami’s talent has created new imagery, drawing on both the resources of the tradition of his country, from the Japanese cartoons known as manga, but also pop culture. His virtuosity, his familiarity with precious materials and his sense of the mediating role of art, find, within the vast “machine” of creation, innovation and communication which is Versailles, a fascinating echo.

Murakami-Versailles is an exceptional occasion which sees the Château of Versailles reconnect with the artists of its day through the medium of a walk allowing you to (re)discover the known and unknown spaces of the estate. If there is a place where risks must be taken to create a true expression of our era and not an imitation, which is often easy to do, it is Versailles. Contemporary artistic creation allows another perception of this living, ever-changing monument. It is not a fixed model of one single era, it is difficult to define, but, like every element of our heritage, the fruit of a complex amalgamation of expressions and interventions, contemporary ones included. Artistic creation contributes a little to breaking the clichés surrounding this location which materialise in the uses of the spaces, which are sometimes conventional and narrow. By revealing its complexity, its substance, its different layers which have been buried under habit, it is a question of offering new points of view of a site which everyone believes they already know.

Murakami-Versailles is a walk, a trail through the “landscape area” of Versailles. For his first major retrospective in France, in the 15 rooms of the
Château and in the gardens, the artist presents 22 major works, , of which 11 have been created exclusively for this exhibition. The general public will be able to view and admire his creations, which are often technical masterpieces. The allegories and other myths of Versailles thus carry on a dialogue with the dreamlike creatures of Takashi Murakami, sometimes inspired by traditional Japanese art. “I seek to produce a creative process which is a bridge between the past and the future” he likes to remind us.

The temporary installation of the works of one of the best-known artists on the contemporary scene, at one of the most visited monuments in the world is a surprising ‘story within a story’. It is the question of the in situ which underlies this proposition. Numerous cultural institutions have attempted ‘clashes’ in recent years between historical heritage and contemporary work. The radicality of this exhibition seems different to us, as much through the chosen location as through the structure of the journey.

Echo, dialectic, opposition, counterpoint … it is not our role to decide. This unique experience seeks above all to spark a reflection on the contemporary nature of our monuments and the indispensable need to create our own era. Notre Dame, Les Invalides, the Panthéon, the Louvre, Versailles, to name but a few of the best-known, contemporary in their time, are genuinely multilayered with numerous interventions, beside which Murakami-Versailles is on a more modest scale. And yet on each occasion there are the same objectives : never to minimise the singular character of every artistic gesture and never to turn the pure imagination of the creator into heritage.

Some principles which have guided us for this unique three months experience : avoid the trap of contemporary art “integrated” with the historical monument; (re)discover a space; rejoice about working with a living artist and the resulting emotions, failures and surprises; give pleasure. Trust one of the best artists of our time to reveal another Versailles, a Versailles of today, a living monument from the perspective of its utility value; this is the intention of this event. Through sensual pleasures, the walk, a new labyrinth of Versailles, has the purpose of both distracting and entertaining the walker, beyond the clichés.

This is an ephemeral extravagance, a risk to be taken. Versailles, formerly a “field of experiments and a multidisciplinary laboratory” for the most audacious creations, notably during parties, deserves this contemporary artistic expression.




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