history vs modernity

While the Italians were in town we took them to Versailles. Just in case they weren’t thoroughly impressed from day one in Paris.

As excited as they were to visit this 17th Century Château, I was equally excited to view the current Murakami exhibit, a source of controversy since its inception in mid-September. I was determined to find all 22 works by Takashi Murakami, including the 11 created specifically for the show, and to discover what all the hype was about. All this while enjoying the splendor of Versailles, which I had previously visited as a student, back in the days when art was confined to museums and galleries.

My first impression was disdain as I felt too distracted by the art to pay much attention to the grandeur of the architecture. That quickly turned to child-like curiosity, as I entered each ornately decorated room, eager to discover which brightly-coloured creatures lurked behind the corner.

It was the unique contrast in the Baroque setting and the art that held my interest.

During this tour, I wondered to myself what exactly was the motivation for France to curate such a show? Setting the precedent with Jeff Koons’ exhibit in 2008, were they attempting to position themselves as provocateurs in the art world? Or perhaps this is all a political ploy to strengthen relations between France and Japan. Whatever the reason, I was throughly entertained and enjoyed it more than not. The Italians thought it amusing but lacked my enthusiasm. The French tourists, upon over-hearing several conversations, were deeply dismayed. (Right-wingers no doubt.)

The final room held no 17th Century distractions, merely smiley flowers to lighten the mood.

For those confused about how modernity can find a home within the walls of history (myself included), Curator Laurent Le Bon offers a little clarity, “The unique experience seeks above all to spark a reflection of the contemporary nature of our monuments and indispensable need to create out own era.”

Still confused? In this video which takes you on a tour of the exhibition, Murakami explains his reasoning behind working so diligently to create his manga universe at Versailles. What I found interesting is how he defines space in France versus Japan, two very disparate cultures. “In France you have this tradition to conquer and manage space and to represent it in three dimensions. In Japan, there is this tradition to flatten out reality to take a real three dimensional space and transform it into two dimensions.”  Another interesting note, Murakami considers his work somewhat like origami which can be manipulated in various ways. I would have to agree.

The grand finale in the exhibition is the Oval Buddha in the garden. Very grand and very gold. If you have not yet experienced the controversy, the show is up until December 12, 2010. Well worth it!

Still, I am left to wonder, should modern art find a home in history?

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17 Comments

  1. Cynthia October 20, 2010

    My dad, a Canadian visiting for the first time, was horrified by the Koons exhibition. I understood him since it’s a bit distracting when you have never seen Versailles and especially if you’re not a fan of modern arts.

    I’d love to see this exhibition, but I don’t feel like dragging my self all the way down there and pay the hefty ticket price to see a castle I have seen to many times!

    Reply
    • Kasia October 22, 2010

      I must say that initially the ‘absurdity’ of the exhibition really fascinated me. In the end I was very happy to have seen it. Koons, Murakami…I wonder what’s next!?

      Reply
  2. Lindsey October 20, 2010

    While I think it’s interesting, I have trouble with the juxtaposition of ultra modern (and almost cartoonish) with such a pristine fixture in French history.

    Reply
    • Kasia October 22, 2010

      I completely understand but that juxtaposition is what makes it all the more interesting.

      Reply
  3. Paris Paul October 20, 2010

    You know how I know I’m a guy? I prefer the pop/Manga art to the old stuff. There, I said it, and I feel oh so much better for it!

    Reply
    • Kasia October 22, 2010

      Glad you let that off your chest! (My Italian preferred the ‘old stuff’ – to each his own!)

      Reply
  4. Paris in Pink October 20, 2010

    I’ve been dying to see this. Not sure if my neo-classical interests would like it so much, but I’m still intrigued to visit the exhibition. Thanks for these pics 🙂 Paris in Pink

    Reply
    • Kasia October 22, 2010

      You really should make the trip. It’s well worth experiencing the history AND the modernity, in person. Rare to see such extremes in one space.

      Reply
  5. ckm October 21, 2010

    ohhhhhh. how cool! i LOVE that. the smiley flowers wall piece….. i want!

    Reply
    • Kasia October 22, 2010

      How could you ever wake up unhappy in a room full of smiley flowers?? Though there’s something a little maddening about so many of them.

      Reply
  6. Andi October 22, 2010

    Oh God I hate it…just like I hate the I.M. Pei pyramid at the Louvre. I love Versailles and can’t imagine seeing that there!

    Reply
  7. Sweet Freak October 23, 2010

    I was at Versailles this time last year and am so keen to get out there and see what it’s like with the Murakami exhibition. I just love that some people love it, others hate it; that some people think it’s genius; others, sacrilegious; it provokes feelings and prompts dialogue – that is the point of art, non??

    As always, gorgeous photos!

    Reply
  8. Forest October 24, 2010

    thanks for the nice rundown! i’ve been curious about that one. I saw the Koons and thought it was an interesting juxtaposition.

    Reply
  9. David October 24, 2010

    I don’t think one can understand this exhibition unless one goes out there and sees it. It’s a very odd juxtaposition (like the oyster and veal dish a friend of mine keeps telling me about in Paris, that she swears is amazing), it somehow works in the space—sometimes—and other times, fails and seems not to respect the space and stature of the palace. (Perhaps that’s the point?) And the French aren’t so keen when people desecrate their glorious history and monuments, understandably.

    Reply
  10. Cynthia October 24, 2010

    I’m really excited about this exhibition. I’m not a huge Murakami fan but I’m into his superflat works contrasting with ornate Versailles, which has been frozen in time. Just by looking at your photos — the works are so displaced that they almost look dramatic — which is a word I would never use to describe something by Murakami. Photo number 3 looks like some insane happy alien space pod dropped in from outer space and into the French palace! I think it’s kinda cool.

    Reply
  11. Darren October 28, 2010

    After countless trips to Paris, I finally made it to Versailles a few weeks ago. (I’ve also lived my whole life in New York City and still haven’t been to the Statue of Liberty!)

    I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the majesty of Versailles than to experience it through the eyes of Murakami. I was absolutely blown away, by each half of the juxtaposition independently, and by the two halves together. This was exactly what excites me by cities and institutions that are respectful of the past but dynamic enough to embrace the present and the future. Museums and cities are living, breathing entities not unlike humans. When they stop growing, they die. I thought applying the lens of Murakami to Versailles made the history of the place come alive even more poignantly. Brilliant.

    Reply
    • Kasia October 29, 2010

      Great to hear from you Darren! I love your open-minded point of view, though I’m sure you can understand why Murakami was such a matter of contention for the French. Perfect timing for you to see Versailles. It’s an experience that will stay with you forever.

      Reply

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