God, I love the world of art. Who else but an artist will issue an official press statement that reads like this:
I am the Cheshire Cat who greets Alice in Wonderland with his devilish grin, and chatters on as she wanders around the chateau.
Not just that, it’ll be quoted in all seriousness, as though this entirely bizarre sentence needs no explanation whatsoever. Give it a little time and we’ll be able to read all sorts of theoretical arguments and philosophical debates in it too. Bless.
Incidentally, that’s Takashi Murakami commenting on his show at the Versailles, which had a bunch of French knickers in a twist. They felt that having the Murakami show was a Disney-fication of the palace. Because of course the Versailles is such an example of restrained, unexuberant elegance. Like most people outside France (perhaps), I didn’t see what the big deal was. It was more like a continuum of excess and kitsch across the ages and I think Murakami’s work fitted seamlessly within the existing painted and gilt-edged surfaces of Versailles. Not that this means I’m in any position to understand Murakami’s statement. Presumably Versailles is Wonderland but is the French twisted-knickers crew meant to be Alice?
Sadly, it seems Murakami’s is the last exhibition of contemporary art in the chateau. The director of the Palace of Versailles announced a few days ago that in the future, artists will have to use other areas in the complex (Maurizio Cattelan, get thee to the Orangery when you show stuff in 2011). This is such a shame because both Murakami and Jeff Koons’ works looked superb in Versailles. They probably looked better in there than they do in regular museums and galleries that aren’t crowded with existing baroque art.
For a look at Murakami’s show, see this slideshow at Flavorpill. For Koons’ show, see the New York Times. These are my favourites from the two collections, though admittedly my choices have more to do with the photography than the displayed art. The Murakami photos are taken by Cedric Delsaux and Ed Alcock took the Koons photos for the New York Times.
All this, predictably, reminds me of the current show on at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai. A few months ago (I think), they hosted a performance by Nikhil Chopra and now they’ve got a retrospective of Sudarshan Shetty’s works, titled “This Too Shall Pass”. Unlike Koons or Murakami, Shetty’s work isn’t baroque or over the top. So instead of a seamless fit with Bhau Daji Lad’s opulence, what you get is a fantastic sense of contrast. The clash of styles works beautifully. What doesn’t work quite as beautifully is how crowded the museum already is because this means the art really is jostling for space in there. Jostling for space and failing. Now, I’d understand the museum being unwilling to shift out a few of their exhibits if they were incredibly rare or interesting but the contents of the display cabinets at the Bhau Daji Lad are far from riveting. Surely stuff like models of traditional games being played by clay figurines can be shoved in a storeroom so that the artist gets a little more space to show their work? Shetty’s neon work, for example, is almost lost in the first floor. Ok, so it’s far from the best in show (possibly the most unimpressive in the show actually; like a sickly stab at being Jenny Holzer) but that doesn’t mean that a viewer should have to take part in something of a CSI investigation to find it. If the Versailles can clear out spaces for exhibitions, how is it that making room for art is impossible for Bhau Daji Lad? I’m not even getting into more minor irritations like the fact that the three-paged note accompanying the show is not a handout (it’s laminated and spiral bound so that you don’t walk away with it) or the fact that photography is not allowed. Because what if I take a picture of a miniature clay bust showing traditional headgear in the 18th century and use it inappropriately? Or maybe I’m taking a picture of that gorgeously-carved wooden arch of Shetty’s, with the sword dangling at the entry, so that I can get Bankelal Mistri (who made my bookshelves) to make me a copy.