Rising Sun

Nicolas Trembley on Takashi Murakami at Versailles

Left: Pharrell Williams. (Photo: Boramy Viguier) Right: Collector François Pinault with Takashi Murakami. (Photo: Laurent Stinus)

“IS THIS AN EMMANUEL PERROTIN OPENING?” everyone kept asking last Monday. The official answer was: No, it’s a solo show by the artist Takashi Murakami at the Château de Versailles—though Perrotin’s presence was certainly felt. No matter whose event it was, it was clear that this exhibition was already a worldwide media event, two years after Jeff Koons caused a similar stir at the Sun King’s former residence.

The Murakami show was produced with the help and financial support of Perrotin, the Parisian gallery owner who seems to be subtly curating the Château’s program with his roster of marketable artists. Indeed, referring to Murakami, Xavier Veilhan (the prior show at Versailles), and Maurizio Cattelan (at one point thought to be next), dealer Eva Presenhuber commented that “Perrotin has all the most powerful artists of the moment.” But it seems the nation’s Ministry of Culture is putting pressure on the museum to alternate between a French artist and a foreign one, and rumor has it that next year the star will be Bernar Venet. Curator Laurent Le Bon, who is organizing every contemporary art show at Versailles assured me, in his politically correct French style, that he did not know the name of the next artist and that only palace president Jean-Jacques Aillagon was au courant.

Left: Collector Victor Pinchuk with dealer Emmanuel Perrotin. Right: Versailles curator Laurent Le Bon (far left). (Photos: Laurent Stinus)

But I didn’t see Monsieur Aillagon at all that evening. Perhaps he was too busy handling the press releases sent out to the major media sources, who were enthusiastically reporting on the ongoing protest by the descendants of Louis XIV and a horde of reactionary fuddy-duddies in duffle coats who found the exhibition totally “degenerate” (and who, indeed, made jabs by putting toilet paper on a canvas and calling it “contemporary art”). In the show’s defense, many of the new works are gold-plated (in homage to the Sun King), and really, between the smiling flowers, multicolored mushrooms, and gold-leaf Buddha, I could hardly see what all the fuss was about. As art dealer Olivier Antoine pointed out, it all would have been a bit funnier (and more pointed) if Murakami had included My Lonesome Cowboy (a sculpture representing a naked manga figure spinning a lasso with his sperm), and placed it in front of the Queen’s bed.

Sunday evening, several days after the exhibition had opened and been seen by thousands (most of the works are in the royal quarters that are opened daily to the public), Versailles invited ministers and major collectors such as François Pinault, Eli Broad, and Adam Lindemann to an official dinner for two hundred. Tuesday was a special day for the youth, with a private concert by the singer Uffie followed by N.E.R.D., which was led by an energetic Pharrell Williams, who also exhibited The Simple Things, a heavily decorated manga head he had made with Murakami. He congratulated France several times for its love of art and also thanked Perrotin for having made the whole event possible.

Perrotin, on the arm of Patricia Kamp (daughter of collector Frieder Burda), was definitely on everyone’s lips, as he had been the weekend prior to the Versailles bash. He had just purchased and opened a new gallery space, a large floor in a private mansion in the Marais district of Paris. He has also rented three floors in a building adjacent to his gallery to be used as his own private apartment, which will include several viewing rooms. Someone has the Sun King in their sights in more ways than one.

Left: Collectors Edythe and Eli Broad. Right: Outside Murakami's show at Versailles. (Photos: Laurent Stinus)

With a cast like Williams, Murakami, and Perrotin, it’s difficult to say who the guests had come to see and who was king of the evening. “Marc Jacobs isn’t here?” asked a shocked fashion aficionado, recalling Murakami’s collaboration with Louis Vuitton. (Perhaps they’d forgotten that MJ’s show in New York Fashion Week was coincident with the opening in Versailles.) Indeed, surprisingly enough, the event was not sponsored by the usual luxury brands such as LVMH or Consor, but rather by the Qatar Museum Authority, where the show will be exhibited next. A clever move in terms of financing, thought some.

And what about the art itself, protected by glass with special video surveillance cameras like contemporary treasures? Nobody really commented on it. Perhaps because, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, the press kit had shown us exactly what we would be seeing and there were no surprises. In any case, people were lining up to pose next to Murakami, who really seemed to be having a ball, making a different face, very kawai, for each photograph.