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Koons' Balloon Dog meets the Sun King at Versailles

A marble statue of France's Sun King is rooming with a porcelain sculpture of the King of Pop and a chimpanzee this fall, as a Jeff Koons exhibit takes over the palace of Versailles through December.

A marble statue of France's Sun King is rooming with a porcelain sculpture of the King of Pop and a chimpanzee this fall, as a Jeff Koons exhibit takes over the palace of Versailles through December.

The iconic French royal palace outside of Paris is playing host to 17 of the contemporary American artist's sculptures, allowing for some odd juxtapositions, including Koons' infamous work Michael Jackson and Bubbles sharing a room with an ornate statue of Louis XIV.

Other Koons creations joining the traditional paintings, busts and tapestries at Versailles include his large, brilliantly coloured Balloon Dog and Lobster sculptures, as well as Split-Rocker, a giant rocking horse head covered with 90,000 living plants that now sits among the chateau's manicured lawns.

Though his eye-popping, over-the-top artworks command top dollar in the contemporary art world, some have blasted the decision to display them at Versailles. About 30 protesters gathered outside the grand chateau on Wednesday, the first day the exhibit opened to the public.

The American artist's sculptures "don't belong at the palace of Versailles, they belong at Disneyland," said journalist and radio host Anne Brassie.

Another protester, Arnaud-Aaron Upinsky, called the exhibit "sacrilegious and insulting to the symbols of the Republic and its art."

Inside, some tourists appeared bemused by Koons' artwork, while others disapproved.

"I love mixing up old and new, but this is awful," Rosine Wyckhuys, a visitor from Belgium, told Agence France-Presse.

However, an Italian visitor told AFP the pieces were "fantastic," while some European art reviewers praised the juxtaposition of contemporary and historic.

Koons said that being shown at the palace "feels so profound. It feels so right."

Though the 53-year-old artist admitted he had some "playful" intentions regarding where some works were situated, he also acknowledged the importance of the historic venue.

"I'm so grateful for the opportunity to show in Versailles. I have complete respect for Versailles and I have complete respect for each individual that's coming to Versailles," Koons told reporters.

Jean-Jacques Aillagon, the president of Versailles who once served as a French culture minister, dismissed criticism of the exhibit, arguing that as well as restoring and maintaining the palace, it was also his job to keep it vibrant.

"It's an exceptional place," Aillagon said. "But it's not a dead place, it's a living place. It's a place that demands respect, but it's not a place that demands sanctimoniousness."

The exhibit continues through Dec. 14.

With files from the Associated Press

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