Robert Polidori: Versailles, Flowers Central, London

3.00

Glamour and grease of Paris's fantasy palace

The Canadian photographer Robert Polidori, a staffer for The New Yorker, has had the Palace of Versailles within sight of the prying eye of his lens for nearly 25 years.

He pokes and prods into every corner of the 18th-century building, taking entire series of often quite glamorous, large-format photographs, registering the pageantry, and then the underside – or perhaps the back side – of the pageantry. What interests him about the place is how it has been mummified by the heritage tourist industry.

No old building can remain old these days. It has to be old within the difficult and constraining trappings of modernity. It has to be constantly made anew. Perspex folds around the bottom of a precious curtain lest small, eagerly greasy fingers should be tempted to twitch at it. Security cameras peep out from the corner of a stretch of gilded molding. Versailles is therefore not so much genuinely old as a constant re-fabrication of the old in order to make the old look as vitally and imaginably alive as it was when it was young and a gaily decorous fantasy of spoilt, overdressed young kings, queens and their hangers on. In order to keep the past alive, you have to work very hard, and spend a great deal of money, because the past is always fading, and often somewhat inelegantly.

So the old has to co-exist with the new, but the new must also be a model of discretion in order not to spoil the fantasy for those who would wish to indulge to the full the historic Versailles experience.

Thus Polidori shows us a Versailles which is continually in the re-making, continually in the business of museum-ification. He does this in two ways. He either shows us vistas which incorporate bits of the old and the new in order for us to see how they co-exist together, side by side, somewhat uneasily. Or he shows us rooms, corridors, etc. which are under refurbishment. In these scenes, all the fantasy and the gilded pageantry have been stripped away to reveal such things as old, ugly, blockish, unstuccoed walls which are like the kinds of things that our cats rub their backs up against day in, day out. A wall without the adornment of a stuccoed skim is a wall is a wall is a wall.

Now, Polidori is a photographer who goes in for the semblance of glamour. These photographs, large in format, are tonally rich and seductive, but it is a richness that is also –and always – undermined by a kind of sly humour. We know – and he knows – that it is all skim-of-stucco deep. Polidori has a good way with of dealing with portraiture. When his photographs show us portraits, they are often cropped, awkwardly. Or, instead of hanging on the walls, they are down on the floor, sideways on. And there is nothing more demeaning for an elegant lower leg than to glimpse it sideways on, as if it is so much lumber.

And yes, that is what all these trappings look like in this show – so much cultural lumber, fabricated, and then carefully positioned, to make a point about influence and the power to intimidate. Nothing here seems to belong to humanity – the seats are too smoothly padded to allow for bums to occupy them; the portraits look preposterously unreal, and especially so when they are not hung on a wall, but stacked – the most humiliating and woe-begone photograph of all is of the Salle d'Afrique, with its stripped bare walls and its un-hung canvases.

And when you do glimpse any evidence of a real human presence, it looks offensive – in a photograph of an ante-chamber, a portrait of Marie-Antoinette by Jean Charpentier is abutted by dirty finger marks on a grey, panelled door. The shock is palpable. What has this building to do with humanity? It is an entire world of unreal spaces.

To 3 January (020-7439 7766)

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game