By BobP

We visited the controversial Jeff Koons modern art exhibit in Versailles on September 11th – the day after opening. Apart from a few flamboyant iconoclasts, who appeared thrilled, and several snooty French aristocrats, who disapproved totally, we – along with most of the people there – were totally bemused, yet doing our best to remain “open-minded”.

A gold dog sculpture, which looks like a giant Christmas ornament, is the first surprise one encounters upon entering the main courtyard.  It blends in well enough with the gilded gates and isn’t too shocking and might even be excused as “pretty” in the right sunlight.

Next step – a rather kitsch but fun magenta Balloon Dog – also looking like a giant Christmas ornament,
which sits alongside a Veronese masterpiece in the Salon d’Hercule the first floor up. Ha ha.

The initiation is now over. One is soon assaulted by a red lobster that looks like an inflatable pool-toy and hangs from the ceiling alongside a gorgeous crystal chandelier in the Mars Salon.  Evokes that old B-52s song and Morrissey (the Smiths) pulling his pants down in honor of the Queen.  A little later, a rather shiny ceramic “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” (the latter a funny-looking monkey) is featured in the center of the Venus Salon.  Huh? 

A life-size British Bobby and his dog beckon one into the Hall of Mirrors, which at the far end, sports what looks like an inverted, shiny blue metallic cake pan.  A few couples amuse themselves by shooting photos of the blue blob with reflections of the Hall.  Most just shrugged their shoulders and then ignored it.

Walk further to discover an open-mouthed, practically bare-breasted blonde bimbo holding a pink panther who seems to be laughing at a 1729 painting of Louis XV conferring peace upon Old Europe.  Kind of liked her, but wouldn’t like to see her anywhere near the White House.  Imagined her at a recent US political convention cheering on the candidates.  Maybe the next Secretary of the Interior?

Next, a plexi-glass encased display of vintage Hoover vacuum cleaners lit up by the most hideous neon lamps imaginable sits in the Queen’s antechamber.  A bit Chernobyl-like. 

We overheard a very cute little girl ask if they were Marie Antoinette’s and her mother respond « No sweetie, they are just a sick joke from a bitter old man with a grudge. » Wasn’t sure whom she was referring to (Francois Pinault?  Jeff Koons himself?) but was inclined to agree. Not into vacuums, neon or radiation.

After a few more curious displays like inflatable pool toys on chain-linked fences in royal chambers, we were relieved to get to the end of the royal chambers visit. 

The coup de grâce was a magenta and gold hanging heart suspended from the Queen’s Staircase.  This work was Koon’s most expensive when it sold for $23.6 million in 2007 – a record for a living artist. Marie Antoinette, as we know, was never one to turn down a frivolous luxury, was she? 

Once in the gardens, we were struck by the one-side snoopy dog and other side dinosaur head right smack in the middle of the Orangerie garden.  “Split-Rocker,” as it’s known, is Koon’s 11-ton stainless-steel sculpture covered in 90,000 live flowers and plants.

We are pitching the exhibit as part of our Kids’ Tours themes.  We leave any conclusions to you (caveat emptor), but continue to recommend Versailles for the permanent exhibition and gardens, however kitsch the exhibit may be.

Koons’ exhibit is due to run until December 14.

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