A huge controvery is currently raging in France around the exhibition in the Royal Apartments at Versailles of works by the Japanese-American artist Takashi Murakami. This is only the latest in a series of exhibitions organised by the Director of the Palace of Versailles Jean-Jacques Aillagon, inaugurated in 2008 with an exhibition of works by Jeff Koons. Here is M. Aillagon himself, inviting us to rejoice with him:-
Over 12,000 people have signed two anti-Murakami petitions initiated by two factions: the Coordination Défense de Versailles and Versailles Mon Amour (VMA), which also organised a demonstration at the chateau gates during the exhibition opening last month. The group objects to the “Disneyfication” of the lavish former residence of Louis XIV, a trend it says was kickstarted by the Jeff Koons show.
It appears Aillagon has now been forced into a partial climbdown, announcing that the 2011 display would probably not take place in the royal apartments, but in another part, such as the Orangery, gardens or the royal opera. Although the museum officially denies a direct relation between the change and the protests, it stated in a rather transparent explanation that the decision was made by Aillagon, for the purpose of avoiding ‘repetition.’ The Murakami exhibition, however, will continue in situ until December.
Murakami was named by Time Magazine in 2008 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and his works are among the most highly valued in the contemporary art market.
Like Koons, many of them are openly pornographic; one of the most notable examples was the headline-making sale of one of his sculptures, sold at a Sotheby’s auction in 2008 for an unexpectedly high $15 million. The 1998 work, titled ‘My Lonesome Cowboy,’ is a large fibreglass and iron figure of a naked young anime-esque male masturbating.
Now one of the protest groups, the Coordination Défense de Versailles, has announced its intention to instigate a lawsuit against the directors of the Palace of Versailles and the exhibition's organisers. Here is an extract from the press release announcing the lawsuit:-
♦Conscious of representing the universal reprobation of the French people and lovers of Versailles from around the world, against the intrusion of Murakami into the Royal Apartments,
♦Estimating at more than 90% the opinions of the media expressed against this attack on the respect due to this global symbol of excellence, art and French culture, and this site of French heritage and identity,
♦ And noting the historic and unprecedented apology by the Japanese delivered to the French Embassy in Tokyo (after our denunciation of a "cultural Hiroshima at Versailles" on Japanese television on September 22, 2010) condemning Murakami's exhibition in the Royal Apartments, the unacceptability of such an insult to our national jewel, our culture, our civilization and this uniquely prestigious site; because this denunciation covers all shades of the population, regardless of any political, social or religious affiliations, as evidenced by such pronouncements, responding to our campaign which began in 2008, from former President of the Republic, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the former Culture Minister Christine Albanel; academicians Jean d'Ormesson, Marc Fumaroli, President of the Friends of the Louvre, Jean Clair, chief curator of the Heritage and former director of the Picasso Museum, the actor and writer Richard Bohringer, the Former Socialist Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, of the United Left opposition to the City Council of Versailles, of the entire staff of the palace, tour guides, lecturers and of over 95% of visitors, of signatories to our petition of all popular allegiances, not to mention other expressions of astonishment and indignation from around the world.
The VMA, for its part, has denounced Murakami as "a parasite who feeds on an existing work of art - Versailles" and condemned "an art market which has the nerve to produce works which purportedly have ‘aesthetic’ qualities but its only criteria are financial. This market is built up through a network of collectors, dealers, auction houses, museums and media which together churn out these names and push prices up.”
I leave you to judge for yourselves... however, I permit myself one remark: the issue here goes beyond merely "contemporary" vs "traditional" art, or even civilisation vs barbarism, but is really about what kind of world we live in... and who is really our contemporary... this "Take-a-shit"... or Louis XIV?