• Murakami at Versailles

    Date posted: April 23, 2011 Author: jolanta
    “This juxtaposition raises myriad thoughts, from humorous, to insulting, to calculatingly subversive, no doubt reflecting the artist’s intention.”

    Takashi Murakami , Tongari-Kun, 2003-2004. Fiberglass, steel, and oil, acrylic, and urethane paint, 22.96 x 11.48 feet.
    Photo credit: Christian Milet. Courtesy of Château de Versailles.
    Takashi Murakami , Oval Buddha, 2007-2010. Bronze and gold leaf 18.8 x 10.46 x 10.21 feet.
    Photo credit: Edward Rubin.

    Edward Rubin

    Once again the battle between preserving classical French culture from the ugly claws of globalization has been making headlines in France. This time around it is provocateur-artist Takashi Murakami’s, Japan’s answer to Andy Warhol, whose recent exhibition of comic-based manga and anime-inspired sculptures at the Château Versailles (September 14 to December 12, 2010), raised the hackles of Prince Sixte-Henri de Bourbon-Parme, a descendent of the Louis XIV, as well as the Coordination de la Défense de Versailles, an organization formed to prevent artist Jeff Koons from exhibiting at the palace in 2008. Condemning Murakami’s “veritable ‘murder’ of our heritage, our artistic identity, and our most sacred culture”, de Bourbon-Parme claims that the artist’s work disrespects the glory of Versailles. “There are puppets in that exhibition that are frankly grotesque.” 

    Like Koons, Murakami’s exhibition was not derailed, but the “powers that be” did capitulate ever so slightly. Not on view, as they were deemed too “explosive” to show, were Murakami’s more titillating “body fluid” sculptures. Missing in action was My Lonesome Cowboy (1998), featuring a masturbating young man whose ejaculation, exploding from a large penis, floats lasso-style overhead, as well as Hiropon (1997), in which a young woman in bikini top and nothing below is squeezing her oversized breasts and nipples, while a frothy stream of milk swirls around her like a jump rope. The nearest we get to the subject of sex at Versailles is six-foot tall Miss Ko² (1997), a young, blond, perky-breasted, and scantily dressed, Barbie doll waitress.

    Whether Murakami succeeded in creating a vibrant, “meaningful dialogue”—the stated intention of curator Laurent Le Bon, is a matter of opinion. For me, Murakami’s controversial invasion of the king and queen’s royal chambers, is little more than sideshow entertainment—read, a diversion—for youngsters, as well as culture-vulture tourists who know little more than its former occupants lost their heads.

    Two, maybe three tops, of the 22 works on view at Versailles, manage to register high on my Richter scale of visual enjoyment, craft and placement; the latter, due to the already-spectacular Baroque nature of Versailles itself, being of utmost importance. The remaining works, occasionally ironic, mildly impertinent, and cutesy-poo in their insistence, come across more, “Toys ‘R’ Us” display, than an actual work of art. Here the peerless powers of the Sun King’s palace all but remove Murakami’s vitals.

    A good example of such neutering is Flower Mantango (2001-2006), the artist’s oversized, double-globed sculpture, covered with sprouting tendrils and grinning flowers in a thousand eye-popping colors. Placed at the entrance of the spectacular Hall of Mirrors with its seventeen huge mirrored arches reflecting seventeen equally-impressive arcade windows overlooking the palace gardens, the sculpture is reduced to an annoying accessory to the fact; the fact being that you are standing in the jewel of one of the world’s most awe-inspiring palaces and nothing else really matters.

    The Emperor’s New Clothes (2005), a nod to Hans Christian Anderson, adds the ultimate ironic touch—perhaps serving as a statement about the entire exhibition. Murakami places a diminutive, large-headed, wide-eyed, comedic-looking character in the Coronation Room, a room filled with paintings celebrating the glories of Napoleon Bonaparte. This juxtaposition raises myriad thoughts, from humorous, to insulting, to calculatingly subversive, no doubt reflecting the artist’s intention.
    When Murakami’s efforts hit the bull’s eye, it’s as if Marie Antoinette and Louis XIV, the palace’s most notorious occupants, specifically commissioned the work of art, for not only does it fit perfectly within its respective space—be it in the palace or gardens—but, it appears inseparable from its surroundings.

    Tongari-Kun (2003-2004), is the crowning glory if the exhibition. It is Murakami at his most inventive and luxurious best. The 23 foot Baroque-style sculpture is a colorful fusion of surrealism, Art Nouveau and a hint of Japanese manga, featuring a giant-headed, fiberglass and steel Buddha, with numerous arms gracing its sides. Buddha sits on a frog, which in turn, is resting on a lotus flower. Sitting beneath a breathtaking ceiling and surrounded by a pair of Veroneses, this imposing Buddha is the exhibition’s indoor show-stopper. Equally impressive is Murakami’s bronze and gold-leafed Oval Buddha (2007-2010), overlooking the palace’s extensive gardens. It is here, among these two stellar creations that Murakami, if only during the run of his exhibition, gets to rule.

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