It is quite a surprise to come out of the rich interiors of the Palace of Versailles and be confronted by bold dramatic sculptures by Anish Kapoor, this year’s contemporary art installation at the Palace. C-Curve on the Terrace and Sky Mirror in the Water Gardens, located on the central axis of the garden façade, make reference to the use of mirrors in the Palace, in particular the Hall of Mirrors, and also to the Sun King, but here the mirrors distort, bend, twist and turn things upside down. Disturbing the control and order of the gardens is Dirty Corner on the central axis of the lower garden, described by Kapoor as “a Queen reclaiming her domain” – a reference to the masculinity evident throughout the Palace and the Gardens. It is an adventure to search out Sectional Body Prepared for Monadic Singularity hidden away behind the maze-like tall hedges of the Star Grove, but well worth it – a red cube made of fabric with interconnected vein-like tubes that you can explore inside and outside but how many people will visit Shooting into the Corner in the Royal Tennis Court, which was seen at the Royal Academy in London in 2009, given it is in a separate building and most visitors are exhausted by the time they leave the Palace?
Sadly, art is not without its technical difficulties. What should be a swirling whirlpool pulling the visitor down into the underworld, Descension, is currently becalmed as a flat circle of water “in maintenance”.
“For Anish Kapoor, a work of art doesn’t exist alone but through its viewer. The visitor at Versailles will witness the dualities of artist’s work: heaven and earth, visible and invisible, inside and outside, shadow and light… This universe can be read through experience and imagination. The originality of this exhibition, what makes it unique, even to those who have long been familiar with Kapoor’s work around the world, is that in Versailles his vision meets an imagination set in stone by history. The very controlled landscape of Versailles is drawn into instability. The grounds become uncertain and moving. Waters swirl. Romantic ruins take hold of the Tapis Vert. Exposed interior orifices are hidden within the garden’s labyrinths. The mirrors that are so central to Versailles now distort it. This world is perhaps about to tip over. It is not by chance that Anish Kapoor was the first to push open the door to the Jeu de Paume, which he considers as a work of art in itself, to exhibit his installation.
Anish Kapoor draws us into a hidden history, within the boundaries of Versailles” (Catherine Pégard, President of the Palace of Versailles)
The installations are not without controversy due to the sexual connotations in aspects of the work, but the original gardens designed by Andre Le Notre themselves have such overtones. It is a great exhibition bringing an additional and informal contemporary aspect to the formality of the Palace and Gardens of Versailles.