Versailles isn't just for selfie-snapping tourists, but has become a playground for internationally-acclaimed artists as well. Following in the footsteps of Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, and Anish Kapoor, Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, decked out the 15th century palace and surrounding gardens with his signature mind-bending waterfalls and mirror installations, on view through the end of October.
Eliasson's Versailles encompasses three installations in the gardens and six inside the palace, created after the artist made several contemplative trips to the site. “Olafur chose works for Versailles that pick up the importance of mirrors and water, and especially to the role that vision played at the historical court; the mirrors made every action visible, the garden was planned according to visual axes,” Martin Enoch of Studio Olafur Eliasson tells The Creators Project. “This was a site very much about power and control. Eliasson’s intervention is aimed at changing the experience by activating the viewers.”
Outside, Eliasson's first work is Fog Assembly, embodying water in its gaseous form. The open-air structure emanates a circular veil of fog through pumps, which artist says will, “amplify feelings of impermanence and transformation.”
Glacial Rock Flour Garden is Eliasson’s take on water as a solid. The open-air area known as Bosquet de la Colonnade has had its grey floor replaced with a "carpet" of blue glacial rock flour, sedimented rock generated by glacial erosion, surrounding the central sculpture of the space. Eliasson brings to this piece his experience carting glacial ice to Paris for a project called Ice Watch when the city hosted international climate talks.
Visitors will find liquid water in one of Eliasson's iconic Waterfalls, the most visually spectacular piece of the exhibition. The artificial water feature falls into the basin of the Grand Canal near the end of the gardens. Slender and tall, Waterfall is supported by a tower that pumps waters through pipes that crash back into the basin in an effort to emulate one of nature’s wonders. “The waterfall realizes a dream of the chief landscape architect who created Versailles, André Le Nôtre. There are drawings in which he imagined a waterfall tumbling into the Grand Canal,” Enoch explains to The Creators Project.
Inside the palace, the works take on dramatically different form and intention. Working with mirrored surfaces, Eliasson has installed six reflective installations designed to, “challenge our vision of the world through projected light, kaleidoscopic views, mirrors, and complex geometric sculptures,” in the words of Alfred Pacquement, the exhibition’s curator.
A trio of installations cleverly use Versailles' existing mirrors to disorient and delight visitors. Deep Mirror (Yellow) and Deep Mirror (Black) are circular sculptures equipped with lights and black paint, both of which bounce off of the many reflective surfaces within the palace. The Curious Museum creates the illusion that you are staring at yourself from across a balcony. Solar Compression uses lights and a convex mirror dangling from the ceiling to imitate a celestial body.
The Hall of Mirrors, the Versailles Palace’s main attraction, is a hall made of seventeen arches each equipped with twenty-one reflective surfaces. Here, Eliasson has installed Your Sense of Unity, a series of circular mirrors and LEDs that reflect and refract its hyper-mirrored environment.
The Gaze of Versailles is the final sculpture in the exhibition. It's Eliasson’s smallest piece, but perhaps the most experientially unique. Continuing with the theme of reflection, he created two small golden baubles shaped like beading eyes, mounted on a door to the gardens. The eyes are like small fish-eye lenses, reflecting a distorted version the surrounding area as you peer into the metallic surface. Perhaps these are meant to replicate the ambitious eyes of King Louis XIV, who outlined a highly specific way in which the Gardens should be shown to visitors.
Louis XIV’s itinerary was so incredibly specific and rigid that Eliasson has responded with an interactive website displaying a series of drawings that suggest an alternative, non-linear route to experience the gardens. “The Versailles that I have been dreaming up is a place that empowers everyone. It invites visitors to take control of the authorship of their experience instead of simply consuming and being dazzled by the grandeur,” Eliasson boldly states.
If you find yourself in France in the coming months, see Olafur Eliasson Versailles with your own eyes until October 30th, 2016. If you can’t make it, check out the online-guided tour of the space and the works here.