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Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos is the first woman artist to exhibit at Versailles
One of the Valkyries in the Galerie des batailles in Château de Versailles.

By: Jean-François Chougnet

PARIS.- The approach of the Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos, born in Paris in 1971, consists of the reappropriation of everyday objects which she transforms using inventive and unexpected techniques. These displacements produce hybrid objects made with azulejos (glazed ceramic tiles) and crochet work (a French word appropriated and amplified by the work of Portuguese women): they are stitched together, welded, gilded, etc. In a word, they undergo a metamorphosis.

Joana Vasconcelos seeks to create a dialogue between culture and personal history. She plays with the concept of the beautiful object without slipping into Kitsch and without claiming Neo-Dadaism. To avoid these traps she uses a very effective weapon: humour. Critical, and sometimes even cynical, it enables her to give a clear and pleasing expression to her work.

Joana Vasconcelos uses the traditional clichés of her country which she re-works with this humour and also with an underlying amused approach that is sometimes also a little sad, or disturbing, or disillusioned, and very modern. Profoundly anchored in Portuguese culture, she proposes a visual language perceptible by all. One would be obviously tempted to add another Portuguese cliché, often mentioned but never properly understood: saudade. Many of her works are imbued with warm feminine sensuality. They convey a feminine protest, without dogmatism, which is treated in a manner that is more ironical than militant.

There is no gratuitous provocation in her work, not even in her “Noiva” (Bride) which made her name at the Venice Biennale, a large chandelier made of tampons and proclaiming femininity, the “original sin”, to the world. And how does Versailles fit in? The work of Joana Vasconcelos can only resonate with the duality of the Versailles project itself, this ambivalence between the classical and the baroque styles made explicit by Louis Marin. Versailles is the result of a production, a construction that is at the same time real, symbolic and imaginary. “Imaginary” in that it reveals the “baroque”, fantastic and fanciful desire to show absolute power. There is a curious irony of history here if one remembers that the term “baroque” comes from the Portuguese “barroco” that means an irregularly shaped pearl.

Versailles by Vasconcelos also includes a series of “Valquirias” (the Portuguese form of Valkyries) in the Battles Gallery, the central room of the museum dedicated “To all the glories of France” by king Louis-Philippe, which Delacroix, who painted his Battle of Taillebourg for it, described as “bizarre galleries”.

The Grand Apartments are the setting for the amused and ironic works of this artist, the first woman artist to be hosted by the Palace.





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