Prince goes to court in bid to rid Versailles of 'grotesque' art

Molly Guinness
Monday 25 October 2010 00:00
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A descendant of France's King Louis XIV is seeking a court order to halt a radical contemporary exhibition by Takashi Murakami in the royal apartments at Versailles because it sullied "supreme good French taste".

Prince Sixte-Henri de Bourbon-Parme launched his legal action to rid the palace's ornate halls of the fibreglass cartoon figures and giant Buddha statues, calling for "respect of the château and of his ancestors".

"There are puppets in that exhibition that are frankly grotesque," he said. "Versailles was conceived with the idea of displaying the essence of supreme good French taste. These works undermine the unity of style and the essence of the museum. That is why this is a provocation."

Works by the Japanese pop artist have been on display at the palace since 14 September, causing outrage among traditionalists. The collection includes the gold Oval Buddha, which is more than five metres tall, and takes pride of place in the Le Nôtre gardens. Pom and Me, a portrait of himself and his dog, represents, Murakami says, an artist who is of very low ranking in Japanese society.

A petition appealing to the director of the palace and the French minister of culture not to "shatter the harmony" of Versailles had reached almost 5,000 signatures, but to no avail. The exhibition is due to end in December.

Prince Sixte-Henri has affiliated himself with controversial causes over the years. In the French presidential elections in 2007, he endorsed the far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen. Earlier this year, he was elected president of a campaign calling for the release of René Galinier, who was imprisoned for shooting and wounding two girls who broke into his house.

Murakami says his creations have helped visitors to appreciate the exaggerated, fanciful atmosphere of Versailles. The most famous example of French baroque architecture was commissioned in the 17th century by the self-named "Sun King", Louis XIV and transformed his father's hunting lodge into his opulent new court.

But Murakami's argument failed to sway Prince Sixte-Henri. It is not the first time a Bourbon has taken it upon himself to defend the palace. Two years ago, traditionalists took a stand against an invasion of giant metal dogs and cartoon animals in a show by the American artist Jeff Koons.

Prince Sixte-Henri's nephew, Charles-Emmanuel de Bourbon-Parme, tried through the courts to get Koons's exhibition banned, but the case was dismissed by a local court and then by the council of state, the highest administrative court in France. This time, Prince Sixte-Henry says he's optimistic that bringing the case to court might have indirect consequences, even if the court proceedings come to nothing: he is hoping for the dismissal of the museum's director Jean-Jacques Aillagon. "I don't know how far we'll get in court," the prince said, "but it is our duty – and mine in particular as a descendant of the king – to react against this provocation."

Versailles has not commented, except to say its visitor numbers have recently significantly increased.

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