British-Indian sculptor causes uproar with "queen's vagina" sculpture at Versailles

PARIS (AFP) - British-Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor has sparked an uproar in France by installing a huge work he has called a "queen's vagina" in the stately grounds of the Palace of Versailles.

The 60m long, 10m high steel-and-rock abstract sculpture, resembling a funnel in the form of an orifice, is set up in the garden facing the royal chateau, which attracts five million tourists a year.

Kapoor, 61, has titled the work Dirty Corner. It is part of an exhibition of his work in the grounds of the 17th century palace that opens on Tuesday and runs until November.

The artist, who has long courted controversy, told French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche a week ago that Dirty Corner was meant to be blatantly sexual - and regal.

It was, he said, "the vagina of a queen who is taking power".

He did not say which queen he had in mind, but added that while the work was "ambitious", it was not so over-the-top as the scale of the opulent Versailles.

Inside the palace itself is a smaller work - a canon that fired red wax at white walls in a symbol of phallus and ejaculation of blood.

Some French media outlets expressed unease at the level of provocation unleashed by Kapoor.

"Anish Kapoor provokes a scandal," said the website of radio station Europe 1.

The conservative daily Le Figaro saw the work as an effort "to use Versailles as an object of contrast between two types of art": the contemporary style of Kapoor and the centuries-old elegance of the French court.

Others came running to the artist's defence. Les Inrocks, a youth pop culture magazine, said only a "fascist" circle of commentators was against the sculpture.

At a press conference on Friday, the artist seemed to step away from his description of the work on the lawns of Versailles as "the queen's vagina".

"I don't remember saying it," Kapoor told reporters, but admitted that he had used the word vaginas to describe parts of the exhibition.

In any case, he said, "I don't see why it's problematic", as sexual organs are universal.

"The point is to create a dialogue between these great gardens and the sculptures," he said.

The French official in charge of Versailles, Catherine Pegard, said that what was of interest to Kapoor was "the hidden chaos" of the gardens with strict lines designed by Andre Le Notre, the 17th century landscape architect.

The man in charge of the exhibition, Alfred Pacquement, said the gardens formed a contrasting background for Kapoor's work.

"The dark cavity is an ever-present theme in Kapoor's work," Pacquement said.

"He brings out contradiction with perspective", upending the order of Versailles while taking into account its large scale.

Kapoor's exhibition is one of the most complex at Versailles since the authorities in 2008 opened the palace and its grounds to contemporary artists.

Versailles hosted works by American artist Jeff Koons in 2008, and Japanese artist Takashi Murakami in 2010.

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