'Dirty Corner': Anish Kapoor's Versailles sculpture dubbed 'The Queen's Vagina' starts a cultural war after artist refuses to remove graffiti

Local councillor so offended by huge work and anti-Semitic graffiti he files lawsuits to have it removed

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The Independent Culture

To the artist Anish Kapoor, Dirty Corner, also dubbed “The Queen’s Vagina”, is a great work of art, graffiti or no graffiti. To the right-wing Versailles councillor Fabien Bouglé, it is an “act of war”.

Mr Bouglé has filed three cases against the Indian-born British artist since his funnel-like sculpture was installed in the gardens of the Versailles palace in June. On the eve of the opening of his exhibition, Mr Kapoor told a French Sunday paper he wanted to “invite chaos” to Marie-Antoinette’s former stomping ground.

In that goal, the lauded sculptor has certainly been successful. But Mr Bouglé has been vying to bring chaos to Mr Kapoor, winning his first battle on Saturday, when a court ruled Mr Kapoor would have to get rid of anti-Semitic slogans daubed by vandals across the 60m-long structure’s side by the end of this week. The racist graffiti was spray-painted on Dirty Corner on 6 September and has been hidden from view by black sheets since the weekend’s ruling.

Mr Kapoor initially wanted to leave it exposed, but the chateau’s management revealed the day before the ruling that they would be covering it up “under the artist’s direction”. Speaking to The Independent, Mr Kapoor defended his decision: “We left it up there as a testament to shame and to horror. This is not a billboard. It is a work of art.”

He will be appealing the ruling which, he says, lacks “common sense and moral correctness”. Mr Kapoor says removing the graffiti risks damaging his work even further. “It’s a very big, very, very expensive work of art and it has been very damaged,” Mr Kapoor says. “We need to think about what the right way to repair it is. We can’t just brush [the graffiti] off.”

Mr Bouglé is unrepentant. “Can you imagine,” Mr Bouglé said, “a work nicknamed the Queen’s Vagina with anti-Semitic words written on it being exhibited outside Buckingham Palace?” He added: “How can Sir Kapoor, who has been nobled by the Queen of England, be so rude to the French when he is our guest? He has committed an act of war against France and we, the French, resist this aggression.”

So insulted by Mr Kapoor’s stance is Mr Bouglé that he said he had written a letter to Britain’s ambassador to France, asking him to inform the Queen of what he said was tantamount to “a diplomatic incident”. “I’m not sure she would be pleased by the behaviour of one of her servants,” he said.

Last week, Mr Bouglé filed his third complaint against Mr Kapoor as well as Catherine Pégard, Versailles’ president, for inciting racial hatred by leaving the offending material exposed to public view. The pair have, however, found a friend in the Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin and even President Hollande himself.

“As President Hollande said to me,” Mr Kapoor said, “from a pedagogical point of view it [was] correct to leave [the graffiti] there.”

The Elysée said that President Hollande “understood the artist’s temporary wish to create a debate about the offensive inscription”.

Ms Pellerin told the TV station Canal + that leaving it on the sculpture for the moment was “a political gesture”. She said: “The debates that it throws up are extremely interesting and raise questions about freedom of creation.”

For Mr Bouglé, Mr Kapoor’s artistic creation has been too free from the outset: his offensive began in June when he triggered an investigation into the legality of the exhibition. He said the museum went ahead without the green light from the Ministry of Culture needed by artists exhibiting at historical monuments.

The Château de Versailles declined to comment on whether they had asked the Culture Ministry’s permission as the investigation is still ongoing. Dirty Corner has been defiled three times. Within a week of its opening back in June, it was splattered with yellow paint by an intruder: a move Mr Bouglé hailed as “a Kapoorian response” to the work.