Venet at Versailles: rust and fury
Bernar Venet is back. And the bourgeois of Versailles are in a fury: in their eyes, the 22 meter high arcs in front of the Château de Versailles and inside its gardens are just "rusty scrap metal", and they have nothing to do with art. For them it’s a "rape of Versailles". We’ve seen this before: it was all the same with the works Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami, when they were displayed in Versailles in 2008 and 2010. Each time vituperative protests erupted over contemporary art shown in a historical context. The residents of Versailles are not what you would call open minded. They chose to live in a postcard, probably because they adore the glorious past of France. And they are not amused, at all, when contemporary banality disturbs the old harmony.
A stranger at home
But each time, Jean-Jacques Aillagon, the president of the historic site of Versailles, enjoys provoking the honest citizens of Versailles. This time, he chose Bernar Venet. Strangely enough, Venet sells his sculptures all over the world for about 800 000 Euros a piece, but he’s not very well known in France. Or to be more exact: they hate him here. He says, “because of the rust, the worst for them is the rust”. It probably didn’t help him, that he moved to New York in 1966 – he only spends the summers in his house in Southern France. "Venet at Versailles" presents seven monumental and rusty steel sculptures. The largest, "86.5˚ Arc x16," surrounds the equestrian statue of Louis XIV with two gigantic steel arcs that look like brackets, measuring 72 feet, weighing 125 tons, and fixed in the earth at a depth of 49 feet. It was technically a big challenge and Venet asked the engineers who constructed the Millaut Viaduct for help. Others are shown in the magnificent gardens of Le Nôtre.
The perfect venue for his sculptures
“Versailles, as I see it, is all about wide open spaces and perspectives that stretch as far as the eye can see”, Venet says. “It is the perfect venue for my sculptures – and a real challenge to take on such a sublime, grandiose milieu. My Arcs have to blend in without fading away in the backdrop." Did he succeed? Of course he did. He’s changing our perspectives. You may not like it, but it will definitely intrigue you. The sculptures are supposed to stay until beginning of November. But next week the civil court of Versailles has to rule whether Venet has to take down the arcs. It was the Association of Residents of Paris Avenue that has applied for the judgement. "You don't put an oilcloth on a Louis XV dresser or a lip piercing on the Mona Lisa”, wrote the furious committee of the website “Versailles mon amour”.