"King of kitsch" meets Sun King in Versailles show

Wed Sep 10, 2008 12:32pm EDT
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By Estelle Shirbon

VERSAILLES, France (Reuters) - King Louis XIV was a visionary patron of the arts but he could never have imagined an inflatable lobster, a porcelain statue of Michael Jackson or a giant balloon dog gracing his beloved Versailles palace.

Jeff Koons, the U.S. artist who has set auction records with two sculptures selling for over $23 million apiece, on Wednesday presented 17 of his works from the past two decades in the gilded chambers of the Sun King's chateau.

"It's the proudest moment of my life," Koons, 53, told reporters as workers finished nailing everything into place.

The show is the biggest contemporary art exhibition at Versailles, and has caused a huge media stir in France.

Newspapers have dubbed Koons "the king of kitsch" and some critics have wondered whether his shiny, toy-like creations had their place among masterpieces commissioned by kings of France in the 17th and 18th centuries.

"Louis XIV was always open to the arts and always made Versailles an open place ... I hope that my work shows respect to the palace and continues a positive tradition in Versailles," Koons said, rejecting the "kitsch" label.

The first tourists to see the show had mixed reactions.

"My first thought when I walked in was wow, 'that's really out of place'," said Gary Furr, a U.S. tourist, gazing at "Balloon Dog (Magenta)," a huge gleaming pink poodle, which faces a painting by Italian Renaissance master Veronese.   Continued...

<p>U.S. artist Jeff Koons' sculpture called "Louis XIV" is displayed at the Chateau de Versailles (Versailles Palace) near Paris, September 9, 2008. The exhibition opens on September 10 and runs until December 14, 2008. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier</p>