From June 9 through November 1, the Château de Versailles presents an exhibition of sculptural works by Anish Kapoor. It is the eighth exhibition of contemporary works at Versailles since 2008, and coincides with the tercentenary of the death of Louis XIV.
Anish Kapoor is known popularly for Cloud Gate, the 66-foot tall stainless steel sculpture that is emblematic of Chicago’s Millennium Park. In London’s Olympic Park, his 376-foot ArcelorMittal Orbit is Britain’s largest public artwork. He has been honored with the Turner Prize and with knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II. At the 300th anniversary of the death of Louis XIV, Versailles has selected Kapoor to install works throughout the André Le Nôtre-designed gardens and the Royal Tennis Court.
Kapoor is the first contemporary artist to install a large work in the Jeu de Paume, where Shooting into the Corner has violently discharged red wax cannon shots. Kapoor described to Julia Kristeva of artpress that,
“The gun and the corner are two unavoidable sides of the same equation. They need each other. Like the state and the citizen.”
The Tennis Court Oath, which formed the National Assembly and gave birth to the Republic, was signed at the Jeu de Paume on June 20, 1789. Here, the installation is a site-specific narrative on the French Revolution.
In alignment with the Grand Canal and behind the recently restored Latona fountain, Dirty Corner is a 197-foot long tunnel of rusted Corten steel, surrounded by boulders and a red-painted ditch. It may suggest a battle site, especially after the scene in the Jeu de Paume, and the press offers more interpretations. Le Figaro describes the work as a contemporary romantic ruin, and BBC News is certain that it looks like a vagina.
Beyond the Apollo fountain and just before the Grand Canal, Descension opens a giant black whirlpool into the ground. It is nearly 30 feet in diameter, and the unseen turbine that swirls and churns the dark water produces a constant and ominous roar.
Sky Mirror is installed between the Latona fountain and the palace. The double-convex mirrors invert views of the sky above with upside-down views of the palace and Le Nôtre’s perfect gardens.
Between the palace and parterre, flanked by classical bronze statues of Antinous and Apollo, C-Curve inverts views of the palace and the viewers.
In the Bosquet de l’Etoile, adjacent to the Bosquet du Théâtre d’Eau, Sectional Body preparing for Monadic Singularity is a 23-foot tall black and red cube, pierced with wormhole pathways into its interior. Visitors who walk inside will experience a saturated interior that is reminiscent of Kapoor’s Leviathan at Monumenta in 2011.
Several of these works are re-appropriated at Versailles: Descension was first installed at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in India earlier this year; Dirty Corner at the Fabbrica del Vapore in Milan in 2011; Shooting into the Corner at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 2009; C-Curve at Kensington Gardens in London in 2007; and the first of several versions of Sky Mirror was commissioned for the Nottingham Playhouse in England.
Anish Kapoor is the eighth contemporary artist to receive an exhibition at Versailles. The first was Jeff Koons in 2008, followed by Xavier Veilhan, Takashi Murakami, Bernar Venet, Joana Vasconcelos, Giuseppe Penone, and Lee Ufan. Anish Kapoor is the third artist selected by Catherine Pégard, President of Versailles since 2011, continuing a curatorial program of contemporary art in dialogue with the historical estate. Perhaps more than others, Kapoor disrupts the order and symmetry of Le Nôtre’s gardens.
In addition to Kapoor’s installations, the Château de Versailles has a full program this summer of festivals, concerts, fountain shows, and performances in celebration of Louis XIV. The most notable events will be the Grand Bal Masqué and a series of Grandes Eaux. On June 27, the Orangerie will host The Sun King Ball – a grand masked ball, designed on the theme of the Sun King, from 11:30 until sunrise. Each Saturday from June 20 to September 19, the gardens, groves, and fountains will be transformed with light installations and water shows that culminate with grand fireworks displays over the Grand Canal.