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Vasconcelos finds a Baroque home in Versailles

Fêted Portuguese artist returns to France, where she was born, with a major show.


Wine Pavilion, by Joana Vasconcelos.

Wine Pavilion, by Joana Vasconcelos.

Lisbon-based Joana Vasconcelos is the latest artist to be featured at the annual contemporary art exhibition at the Palace of Versailles, France.  Joana Vasconcelos Versailles includes a number of works, including site-specific pieces, within the state apartments and gardens of the Baroque palace.

Born in Paris, Vasconcelos studied art in Lisbon, where she now lives and works. She has won a number of prizes including the Prémio EDP Novos Artistas in 2000 and the Fundação Berardo’s The Winner Takes it All in 2006, resulting in Néctar, which sits at the entrance of the Museu Colecção Berardo in Lisbon. She captured international attention with her participation at the 2005 Venice Biennale and will represent Portugal at the 2013 edition of the event.

Her large-scale sculptures and installations combine incongruous materials and forms in order to address questions concerning social class, the status of women and national identity. Works like Marilyn (2009), a pair of large stainless steel stilettos made of pots and lids and Néctar, made of green glass wine bottles, simultaneously appropriate and subvert the use of everyday items.

It is fitting that Vasconcelos should find herself exhibiting at a site like the Palace of Versailles. Her flamboyant pieces share a number of qualities with the ornate decor of the Baroque palace. At Versailles, her works exemplify, among other things, her personal connections to both France and Portugal.

The artist describes her experience at Versailles as fusing its history with the present by “evoking the presence of the important female figures that have lived here, while drawing on my identity and my experience as a Portuguese woman born in France, [it] will certainly be the most fascinating challenge of my career.”

The connections between the two countries could be made in regards to the structure itself since Queen Marie Antoinette had hundreds of orange trees sent from Portugal to establish the palace’s vast Orangerie. France – especially Paris – is also home to a large Portuguese diaspora, of which Vasconcelos was a part. Not only does the artist have a link between France and Portugal, but the exhibit’s curator, Jean-Francois Chougnet, was the first director of Lisbon’s Museu Colecção Berardo.

The importance that Portugal’s artistic heritage holds in Vasconcelos’s oeuvre cannot be understated. One will find works consisting of Bordallo Pinheiro ceramics covered in a second skin made of Açorean crocheted lace, a tapestry by the Manufactura de Tapeçarias de Portalegre , an installation of large filigree-like Viana hearts (made of plastic cutlery) accompanied by the music of fado singer Amália Rodrigues.

But these works are not merely romanticized nationalistic tokens, since they are often presented in unexpected and jarring combinations. These could be viewed as nods to a history of artworks produced by often unnamed studio-based artisans or categorized as traditionally feminine genres of works that have been previously ignored or marginalized from the canons of art history.

The Versailles exhibition programme was started in 2008 by then art director Jean-Jacques Aillagon and has featured artists such as Jeff Koons (2008) and Takashi Murakami (2010). This year’s show did not begin without some controversy as A Noiva (The Bride), a large chandelier made of thousands of tampons and a key work in Vasconcelos’s oeuvre was not included at Versailles and is currently displayed at Centquatre in Paris. Some reports have suggested that the sculpture was considered too risqué for the Versailles show.

Joana Vasconcelos Versailles runs until September 30.

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Published: Jul 23 2012
Category: Culture, Featured, Spain News
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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