Of the many quotes by Robert Hughes in the newspaper in the last couple of weeks, one that I particularly like refers to Gilbert&George and Andy Warhol, “image-scavengers and recyclers who infest the wretchedly stylish woods of an already decayed, pulped-out postmodernism”. But recycling – and being stylish – is also an art and some know how to do it and others do not. When I read the above quote, I could only think of my recent visit to Versailles, almost spoiled by the crowds and Joana Vasconcelos’ art. Stylish she is not.
The thing is, Vasconcelos is a recycler of the recyclers with a folkloric and weak feminist narrative. To be professional, extravagant, ironic and controversial – all the adjectives that the press normally likes to use when referring to her, and to which I would add, clever – doesn’t really make you a great artist.
What a big disappointment this exhibition was. Maybe Versailles is just too good for Vasconcelos. The excess of references – which the catalogue is not shy in pointing them out – is overwhelming. You take them away and very little is left. The bottle dryers for example – with which the artist won a sculpture competition organized by the winery owner Berardo (wink wink) – is a sad Duchamp recycle that when seen in the Versailles gardens, reveal how irrelevant her works are. Also in the gardens, the giant iron teapot and wine bottle are, in the middle of the complex narrative created by Andre Le Notre, simply pointless. And I could go on. Perruque, a marquetry cocoon with sprouting hair, is formally uninteresting (Lady Gaga does it much better), and uses a traditional furniture technique that, even seen from a distance, becomes strikingly poor next to the furniture which is trying to emulate.
With this excess of folklore, Vasconcelos is in a way like that handful of Portuguese designers that thought that to re-design the look of the Galo de Barcelos and sell it to tourists was the coolest and cleverest thing ever. She is doing the exact same thing but BIG.
Anyhow, during my visit, though slightly upset, I became aware that her pieces are indeed perfect for the cattle-like crowds that walk the corridors of the palace in petite steps. The crowds don’t think, they do not know what they are looking at and all is seen through a digital camera screen.
In the end, maybe this is just me venting. All I really wanted was to visit Versailles without the crowds and without Vasconcelos noise. Versailles does not need her. Hopefully, I will go back to Versailles many times. The crowds might stay, but thankfully Vasconcelos sad recycles will go.