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Versailles and modern art: back to the future

Sheila Hicks, Proserpine en Chrysalide, ©ADAGP, Paris 2017
The Palace of Versailles: a traditional institution focused on the past? Not at all! Since 2008, current big names in modern art have been moving in and reinventing it for the better. Indeed, every year they give us a new reason to (re)visit Versailles.
2017: a winter trip on its head
Mark Manders, Dry Clay Head, 2015-2017 Burnished bronze Courtesy of the Artist, Zeno X Gallery (Antwerp), Tanya Bonakdar (New York)

For the event’s tenth year, an artists’ collective is invited to Versailles. Commissioned by the Palais de Tokyo, a new visitor experience has taken shape between the trees, “from the glory of autumn to the dazzling crystallization of winter”. You’ll see Sheila Hicks, Jean-Marie Appriou, Oliver Beers and Rick Owens there, amongst others.

2016: Oliafur Eliasson, new possibilities
Olafur Eliasson Waterfall, 2016  Installation view, Palace of Versailles, 2016

This Danish-Icelandic artist humbly took over Versailles and its gardens with a selection of six installations based on water, the environment, and self-perception. An optical dance bathed in light.

2015: Anish Kapoor, a double-edged sword
Dirty Corner   2011-2015  Courtesy Lisson Gallery, Galleria Massimo Minini, Galleria Continua, Kamel Mennour and Kapoor Studio

From the Palace of Versailles gardens to the Jeu de Paume room, the six imposing installations from the Indian Artist, Anish Kapoor, made for a shocking exhibition that stuck in your memory, just like his Dirty Corner, which symbolised “the queen’s vagina seizing power”.

2014: Lee Ufan, a contemplative stroll
Relatum - L'Arche de Versailles 2014 Stainless steel and 2 stones. © Lee Ufan Courtesy of the artist, M. Mennour, Paris/London and Pace, New York

The Korean painter and sculptor, a master of minimalism, was a subtle presence in Versailles. His deft, economical work contemplates the void through pieces composed mainly of stone, as silent additions to the landscape. A captivating take on oneirism.

2013: Giuseppe Penone, poverty art in the kingdom of splendour
Giuseppe Penone, Albero folgorato (Arbre foudroyé), 2012

The leader of arte povera, the Italian artist Giuseppe Penone examines the relationship between men and nature, dotting Le Nôtre’s gardens with sculptures of trees in wood, stone, and bronze.

2012: Joana Vasconcelos, the reigning queen
Valquíria Enxoval, 2009  Joana Vasconcelos

The Palace’s first female guest artist, Portugal’s famous Joana Vasconcelos, displayed her extravagant, joyful pieces in the Galerie des Glaces, in a celebration of audacity, experimentation, and freedom.

2011: Bernar Venet, a triumphant encounter
85.8˚ Arc x 16 2011  Cor-ten Steel  Height: 22m. Exhibitions: "Venet à Versailles", Palace of Versailles, 2011

The Nice-based artist Bernar Venet, the founder of conceptual art, exhibited seven monumental pieces on the Versailles and Marly estates: imposing circular arches in brown steel, made especially for the event.

2010: Takashi Murakami, an ode to joy

With much humour and a great imagination, the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami came up with a combination of history and the present day, manga aesthetics and pop culture, for the “Versailles wonderland”.

2009: Xavier Veilhan, on a large scale
Le Carrosse, 2009. View of the exhibition, Veilhan Versailles, Palace of Versailles, 2009. Commissioned by the Ministry of Culture and Communications, Centre National des Arts Plastiques. © Veilhan/ADAGP, Paris, 2017.

Through a stroll dotted with spectacular sculptures, the plastic artist Xavier Veilhan successfully overcame the challenge of merging with the architecture of Versailles, in an eloquent dialogue.

2008 : Jeff Koons, king of excess
Balloon Dog Jeff Koons

The super star American artist confronted the baroque interiors of the royal apartments with exuberance and unabashed bad taste. The joyful frenzy of Louis XIV’s parties, perpetuated through tawdry sculptures.

Getting to Versailles