Things That Tick Me Off: Versailles

It is time for another entry in the series “Things That Tick Me Off” where I mindless vent my anger or frustration in a theraputic rage. The winner this time is Versailles and its director, Jean-Jacques Aillagon. I recently visited Versailles for the first time and was shocked to find that the director had placed the art of Takashi Murakami through the palace. I will not hide my general dislike of Murakami’s art which seems a mix of Disney and Pez art, but the placement of the large pieces entirely destroyed the historical context and experience for visitors at Versailles.

My friends in France tell me that the French have voiced their own contempt for the exhibition. What is unbelievable is that these large pieces were placed in every historic room — often blocking one’s ability to see parts of the room. It was also entirely impossible to experience these rooms as they existed in the eighteenth century because you are staring as a giant waitress carrying cokes or a giant orb with protruding teeth and flowers. In a couple cases, you could not clearly see the opposing wall of the chamber because you were staring at one of these oversized rabbits or fantasy creatures.

Indeed, when you try to look out a window to experience the view of the King or Queen, you look directly as a massive gold cartoonist orb with teeth placed directly in your view in the famous walkway to the gardens. It came across as virtual contempt for the historical value of the palace and totally ruined the visit to the site.

Petitions and protests have occurred over the display and frankly the director should be relieved of his office for this grotesque offense. He was given one of the world’s most recognizable historical sites and destroyed the ability of visitors to enjoy and understand the site.

Now I accept that Murakami is not my cup of tea and that others may like this type of art. However, I would oppose any extrinsic displays at the palace. Visitors come to Versailles to experience the architecture and art of the period. (Ironically, I found myself increasingly hostile toward the original occupants for their gross consumption and I could well understand why — upon entering this palace — people wanted to cut off their heads). The dispute is over the purpose of site. France is full of wonderful art museums. Versailles is a unique historical site that is full of contemporary art.

Ironically, when you arrive, the audio tour (which, by the way, should also be improved with greater detail and coverage) invites visitors to try to imagine living at the time of arie Antoinette. The visitors are then barraged with fantasy cartoon-like characters and images to prevent them from imaging anything but acts of spontaneous vigilantism in defense of the palace. Clearly, Aillagon wants to be the director of an art museum and is not satisfied with simply maintaining one of the world’s best known historical sites.

Jean-Jacques Aillagon is a former minister of culture who took over directorship and proceeded to degrade the palace with juvenile cartoonist displays.

Aillagon really ticks me off.

Jonathan Turley

32 thoughts on “Things That Tick Me Off: Versailles”

  1. “The winner this time is Versailles and its director, Jean-Jacques Aillagon.”

    Versailles does not have a director, it has a mayor. You are confusing the city of Versailles with the Palace of Versailles. The city encompasses more than the Palace. I realise lots of foreigners like to abbreviate the Palace as simply Versailles but it irks the locals.

  2. Lotta and Elaine,

    I never said that buildings couldn’t be art. Just that I’m not convinced the Versailles would fit that bill. Heck, the building could be art, the items in it could be art, but it wouldn’t follow that the combination of the two that we mean when we say “Versailles” is actually art. One element I’ve always thought was necessary to art is that it was conceived as such.

  3. “Let them watch MTV.”

    No doubt in due course the exhibition will end and the artworks will be trucked off. I appreciate that this is no consolation for the occasional visitor from outside Europe.

    I’m not really in sympathy with the general presumption that directors of such public spaces should be perpetually sensitive to the public’s preferences for treatment of the venue. I’ve read too many outraged editorials in the Daily Mail to feel that anger over aesthetic matters should overrule tolerance and innovation.

    I an particularly appalled by the craven response of the Smithsonian to a recent demand by the perpetually outraged Bill Donohue, and while I shrink from drawing a direct parallel (you know the difference between personal offence and public outrage) I would still say that in both cases artistic freedom is under attack.

    For that reason I think the Smithsonian has been unwise and the great palace of Versailles is in firmer hands, even if I may not always like the looks of the art they display.

  4. rafflaw, at YouTube once you find the video you want you now copy and paste the address up in the address bar at the top. That will automatically embed the video. Sometimes it doesn’t work though and I think that’s because the poster can disable the embed function and it only shows up as a link, but there’s no way to know that until you actually try to embed it. Previously if the poster disabled the embed function the embed code wouldn’t show up in the embed box but now it’s a craps shoot.

  5. LK,

    Any mastery of both doublespeak and the confusion ray I possess comes in large part from being raised on a steady diet of Uncle Groucho and his animated simulacrum, Uncle Bugs Bunny. I think Groucho was a paragon of comedic artistry.

  6. BIL, A Groucho quote! I love Groucho. Groucho Marx was the bizarro Salvador Dali. Groucho, while thought to be a comedian was a true artist and Dali, while not a great artist IMO was a hell of a comedian.

  7. Professor, Thank you, your rant inspired me. LOL, there is no other blawg I am aware of where you can visit and rant on about what defines art on one thread and creeping fascism on the next. 🙂

  8. Gyges, I saw the the statement differently: by indicating that Murakami could “ACTUALL(Y)” draw (an implication that the other two could not) the implication was that the drawing and painting ability (and consequently the quality) of their work was less and not just different. That may have been the implication or it may have just been my inference. No, “actuall(y)” made it an implication and carried with it a judgment negative in tone.

    You are correct about the definition of art being difficult to pin down in that the soul of the beast extends beyond the normal vocabulary. Often times one has to make the words stretch to fit a concept or description that is elusive and all fuzzy at the edges.

    That is IMO an attribute of art, visual or musical, that I think must be present to fit the definition. Art transcends language because it resonates on levels words can’t adequately describe. It strikes at a place in your head that is not intellectual. It’s attraction, or communication is pure in that it is unfiltered. It is a spiritual experience. That’s why it is such a great propaganda tool when used properly, it influences you at levels and in way you do not realize and can seldom articulate.

    You can attempt to not talk about the definition of art and that’s probably a good thing if you don’t want to become restricted by the dogma that surrounds it. I enjoy talking about art though because there are a lot of words and art interests me. That’s where a lot of people get hung up, they are taught artificial boundaries regarding what qualifies as art and good art.

    Buildings as art? Yes, and they have been historically. Craft pieces as art? Yes, though that is still somewhat a matter of contention based on the restriction that utilitarian objects can not rise to the level of art. As craft, no matter how exquisite, can’t be art neither can the utilitarian or spiritual works by ‘primitives’ be art. Non-Western art, to mean works by practitioners that were not Western European or sanctioned as sufficiently civilized as a group to have fine art was ignored for a couple of centuries or relegated to the basements of museums with other utilitarian art and crafts. The “Primitive Art” section. Art snobbery by the West.

    Can’t be right or wrong about art? Yes you can if you apply Western European dogma to what you see and let it restrict what moves you. All art does the same thing but what you’re taught art is or should be can wall you off to it happening. You seem to guard against that by betting that’s what’s on the canvas is what is intended and drawn/painted with the skill to achieve that end.

  9. Prof,
    It sounds like they tore down paradise and put up a parking lot! If I knew how to do it, I would link to Melanie’s song from the 60’s or was it early 70’s!

  10. I’m glad to hear someone else feels this way. I was recently in London and visited Kensington Palace. It was a nightmare. All of the period furniture and art had been removed. And in its place were modern interpretations of fairy-tales. The lights were so dimmed you couldn’t even see the historical walls or dimensions of the rooms. What you could do is fill out a sheet about fairy-tale princesses. It was really stimulating, let me tell you. I voiced my complaints to the directors, who themselves seemed embarassed about the exhibit.

    Apparently, the whole thing is part of an attempt to entice younger people and those less likely to visit museums to visit the palace. The downside, of course, is that those of us who would like to visit historical sites are sorely disappointed. If I wanted to see an exhibit on fairy-tale princesses and modern art, I would go to one.

    I think these types of exhibitions are horrible, and will only lead to even fewer people attending these historical places.

  11. LK,

    Bravo, indeed. I love a good turn of phrase and that was truly lovely.

    As to art?

    “Well, art is art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water! And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now, uh… Now you tell me what you know.” – Groucho Marx

    What I know is this: as with beauty, art is in the eye of the beholder.

  12. Gyges,

    I think a place like Versailles is art–just as I do the old cathedrals and minsters I toured in Europe. The stained glass windows in some of those places were definitely the work of artists.

    I’ve never visited Versailles. I did get to see the splendor of the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna back in the seventies. I’d classify that palace as a work of art too.

  13. Lotta,

    To be fair, he just said Pollock and Picasso couldn’t draw. Not that they weren’t art. Now, personally, I bet that every one of their paintings looked like how they visualized them. That’s my definition of being able to draw.

    I’m not sure that I would qualify Versailles as art. My personal definition of art is based solely on intent and execution, but I try not to talk about the definition of art. It’s artificially restricting words to discuss things that have no concrete boundaries. You can’t be right or wrong about what art is.

    You can be wrong about if someone “can draw” or not.

  14. I;d like to see a month of thr average person in what their most aggrevation pet peeve is

    C Munro

  15. Well Dick, every work of art is a distillation of the artist’s perception and expression. It is the momentary essence of the artist’s experience, viewpoint, emotion, surroundings, relationship with the subject and (both internal and external) mood.

    It doesn’t matter what school of art or weather 2 or 3 dimensional. All art either resonates with the viewer on some personal level or not. The construction of art is personal but the appreciation of art is a collaboration between the viewer, artist and art itself. One should be touched by some aspect of the artist’s translation of what are generally complex and veiled emotional, intellectual and stylistic attributes played out in the art itself.

    Some art is good, some isn’t. You apparently like or appreciate representational art. But even representational art and hyper-realistic art is abstract art because all art is an abstraction, a selection of meaningful and discrete elements by the artist, arranged to communicate (or convey some meaning) on some level to the viewer. The Wyeth’s are as abstract as any Picasso, Ernst, or Pollock. It’s only the artistic style or vernacular that is different even though most viewers would put Andrew Wyeth in the ‘realist’ camp.

    Which kind of brings me back to Versailles: If all art is abstract (which I ascribe to as a basis for argument) then some historic places are pure art in a different vernacular since they are distillates of a moment in a society or culture which perform the same communicative function as other art and do so at a level of technical quality that transcends any utilitarian purpose. They speak to one just as evocatively as any canvas or sculpture.

    Versailles is art. To treat it like a museum or a building to house other art is to fish off the back of a whale. It’s like showing off the new fall line of Hermes’ scarves by draping one around the neck of the Venus.

    I’m not particularly familiar with Murakami but from the quick look I had on the interwebs I like it at first glance. I agree though that it doesn’t belong in Versailles because it’s a frivolous distraction from the art you are standing in.

    1. Lottakatz:

      “Versailles is art. To treat it like a museum or a building to house other art is to fish off the back of a whale. It’s like showing off the new fall line of Hermes’ scarves by draping one around the neck of the Venus.”

      Man, that is good stuff.

  16. Pollock, Picaso, Murakami, what is the difference?

    Murakami can actuall paint/draw.

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