The Palace of Versailles has invited five renowned photographers to fill its spaces. Each artist unfolds a different vision of the celebrated estate of the Sun King.
We follow signposts on a tour that stimulates the senses and inspires wonder. At the edge of the gardens of the Grand and Petit Trianons, there are photographs are tucked in among whispering fountains and monumental trees. They are the work of Nan Goldin, Martin Parr, Eric Poitevin, Vivian Sassen, and Dove Allouche. The five artists have been chosen to offer a fresh, personal look at the estate of the Palace of Versailles, which hosts every year an installation of contemporary art. This year, photography enjoys pride of place. “It was our intention to offer the public an extremely diverse parallel tour, a different Versailles. We are presenting an alternative approach as part of the traditional visit, with surprising creations by artists who have produced something altogether original,” explains Alfred Pacquement, one of the exhibition’s curators.
Nan Goldin: the dark source
The American artist has decided to create a sound and visual installation in a narrow hallway of the Petit Trianon. We enter a space closed off by black curtains and follow a succession of photographs representing the immense pipework that feeds the famous fountains in the park as well as portraits of statues populating the estate. Nan Goldin offers us a sort of immersion: surrounded by images, we feel as if plunged in the catacombs of this amazing edifice. It’s as if the photographer took us behind the scenes and offered us a glimpse of the inner workings of the Palace of Versailles, of the indispensable elements which sustain it and keep it alive.
Eric Poitevin: aiming at the sun
The “Jussieu Orangery” located in the back of the Petit Trianon garden, has become home to Eric Poitevin’s photographs. The artist presents two different series. The first is devoted to a flowering plant that grows around the estate, known as angelica. He made twelve portraits of this plant which are displayed in a row. The plant shows signs of withering which suggests fragility. This idea in turn puts us in a meditative mood, inspiring reflection on the passage of time. In the adjacent room, Eric Potevin mounted his photographs of the sun. This series represents a consummate act of daring on the part of the photographer: we are confronted with a panorama of utterly overexposed images, in which we can nevertheless discern the rounded form of the star. These images resonate with the sunlight that floods the interior through the tall windows.
Versailles is laughing with Martin Parr
In a space opened to the public for the first time, namely the sublime garden structure called Pavillon Frais, the British photographer deploys his signature sense of humor. He has photographed Versailles visitors, creating a mordant portrait. In one photograph, all the visitors are wielding smart phones and everyone is too concentrated on the screen of their machine to absorb their surroundings or take a proper look at the architecture. In another picture, we see an endless line of people waiting to gain entrance to the Palace, while a man in a red jacket is making a face. In yet another, the floral patterns of the dresses worn by two tourists marvelously match the pink marble of a colonnade. The series is sure to bring a smile to any viewer’s face.
Monumentality according to Vivian Sassen
Known as a fashion photographer, Vivian Sassen wanted to confront the monumentality of Versailles. She printed her photographs on canvas and stretched them on immense frames which she installed in various spaces of the Grand Trianon. By retouching the colors, she has managed to create a troubling portrait of the statues in the park and of the visitors. She asked young people to pose for her while she tried to integrate them into the décor of the Palace of Versailles. One young woman, for example, poses with her jeans jacket over her face in a room with gilded walls and ornate tables. A film by the artist is screened near the exit from the Grand Trianon.
Colored striations by Dove Allouche
Dove Allouche got interested in the materials used in the construction of the Palace of Versailles at the time of Louis XIV. He thus came across gypsum which was used to make the plasterwork. He then used this sedimentary rock as a negative to produce images which are now displayed in the Cotelle gallery in the Grand Trianon. The result is abstract tableaus covered with countless fine, colorful striations, which look like a shower of pigment and blend perfectly with the paintings and mirrors covering the walls of this gallery.
By Jean-Baptiste Gauvin
May 14 to October 20, 2019
The estate of Trianon, Palace of Versailles, 78008 Versailles