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By Patricia Boccadoro

VERSAILLES, FRANCE, 10 NOVEMBER 2010 — After Jeff Koons and the relatively discreet Xavier Veilhan, it’s now the turn of the fashionable Japanese artist and sculptor, Takashi Murakami (b. 1962) to adorn the magnificent 17th century Chateau of Versailles with his contemporary inventions.

With Koons’ Popeye sculpture, completed by his team of 135 workers, relegated to a Parisian gallery on the avenue Matignon, the way was clear for Murakami, an artist ‘misunderstood’ in Japan, to present 22 of his multi-coloured creations inspired by pop culture and Japanese cartoons, commonly known as Manga, in the salons and halls and State apartments of the Palace of Versailles.

Takashi Murakami: Superflat Flowers, 2010
©2010 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co
All rights reserved. Photo: Cedric Delsaux
The Salon of Peace / Château de Versailles

But while Jean-Jacques Aillagon, President of the Chateau of Versailles spectacles, considers Murakami one of the most celebrated artists of our time, what he didn’t take into consideration is just what kind of contact he expected there to be between, for example, Murakami’s monumental but grotesque Tongari – Kun (Mister Pointy) in the Hercules Salon which might attempt to dialogue with the elegant Veronese work there, but where the latter gracefully ignores the former.

Takashi Murakami: Tongari-Kun, 2003 - 2004
 © 2003 - 2004 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd
All rights reserved Photo: Florian Kleinefenn
Salon d'Hercule / Château de Versailles

Worse, in the Venus Salon, the Goddess of Love looks down from a glorious painted ceiling by Houasse upon Kaikai and Kiki, two crude little painted figures from a child’s fantasyland who squat on either side of an unsmiling statue of Louis XIVth. The clash is too great, and, further along, disdain is only too evident on the face of Marie-Antoinette as she and her children look down upon three ugly small figures and their dog; it’s not remotely amusing.

Takashi Murakami: Kaikai Kiki, 2000 – 2005
© 2000-2005 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd
All rights reserved. Photo: Gilles Truyens © EPV 
Salon de Vénus / Château de Versailles

Not least, Murakami’s gaudy Flower Matango stands ill-at-ease in the opulent décor of the legendary Hall of Mirrors. It jars with the refined background of the 73 meters of golden mirrors, marbles and glittering chandeliers where the paintings on the high, vaulted ceiling illustrating events in the life of Louis XIV snob this unwelcome intruder. The surroundings add nothing to the works and the works add nothing to their surroundings.

The question this exhibition raises is not whether one appreciates Takashi Murakami’s works, but rather why present them here, where visitors to the beauty of the Palace have them forced upon them as they walk around, rather than in, for example, the contemporary Pompidou Centre or an avant-garde gallery as a show in its own right.

Takashi Murakami: Flower Matango, 2001 – 2006
© 2001-2006 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd
All rights reserved. Photo: Cedric Delsaux
Hall of Mirrors / Château de Versailles

It’s also hard to cry genius in front of these neo-psychedelic garishly coloured ‘little Pet-shop’ figures. In the catalogue, Murakami writes that with his ‘playful smile’ he is inviting us all to the Wonderland of Versailles, but frankly, this exhibition is more suited to distraught parents who do not know what to do with their bored three-year old on a rainy afternoon, providing of course, that they are able to pay the exorbitant entrance fee of 15 euros.

"Such an exhibition brings in money", one of the staff concerned with the show told me. "Of course Murakami is out-of-place here, we all know that, but such provocation brings in the curious, and evidently the outraged locals. It gives people something to talk about and brings us the necessary money needed for the upkeep of the museum."

Murakami Versailles
Until 12 December 2010
Château de Versailles
78008 Versailles
Tel: (33) 01 30 83 78 00

Headline image: Takashi Murakami: Oval Buddha, 2007 – 2010 
All rights reserved. Photo: Gilles Truyens © EPV
Water Parterre / Château de Versailles

Patricia Boccadoro is a senior editor at Culturekiosque. She last wrote on Dining Out in Rome.

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