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Palace of Versailles gets giant waterfall to ‘hold up the sky’

Danish artist Olafur Eliasson has installed a giant waterfall that cascades into the Grand Canal of the royal gardens at the Palace of Versailles outside of Paris.

Palace of Versailles gets giant waterfall to 'hold up the sky'
Photo: Anders Sune Berg/Chateau de Versailles Official Website
It is so big he claimed it “almost holds up the sky”.
 
But Danish artist Olafur Eliasson refused Monday to reveal just how tall the giant waterfall he has created at France's Palace of Versailles actually is.
 
“The height is perfect,” he told reporters as he unveiled the spectacular installation which cascades into the Grand Canal of the famous royal gardens outside Paris.
 
“Just as I intended it will obscure the sun when it sets” on Midsummer's Day, said the artist, who has previously wowed New Yorkers with his 10-storey urban waterfalls and Londoners with a huge trippy sunset at the Tate Modern gallery.
 
 
Photo: Anders Sune Berg/Chateau de Versailles Official Website
 
(Photo: Anders Sune Berg/Chateau de Versailles Official Website)
 
 “Of course I could tell you how many metres it is, but I am not going to because we need to leave it to the public to make up their minds how high is high,” he said.
 
Earlier he admitted to AFP that he was “behaving like a small arrogant king” in not revealing its height, adding cryptically that the “size (of the waterfall) is decided by the confidence in the more cosmic Baroque”.
 
Eliasson said he wanted to get away from a “world where everything is reduced to statistics… to resist the idea that we have always to quantify the unquantifiable.”
 
Instead, he insisted the eight works he has created for the palace built by “Sun King” Louis XIV, the most absolute of France's absolute monarchs, were created to give “everyone the chance to become a king and queen.
 
Lost in the mist
 
 “It is about decentralising the hierarchy of the perspective… (to let everyone) winkle out the secrets” of the visual tricks Louis XIV and his architects used to impress and overawe visitors to Versailles.
 
His other works include what he hopes will be an enchanted misty ring in one of the gardens' many groves called the “Fog Assembly” in which visitors are encouraged to “lose themselves”.
 
Photo: Anders Sune Berg/Chateau de Versailles Official Website
 
Unfortunately, its full effect was somewhat obscured by a real fog on the morning of its opening. The waterfall too was sometimes lost in the mist.
 
An enormous fountain had featured in the original plans for the baroque 17th-century palace drawn up by Louis XIV's architect Andre Le Notre, but was never realised despite attempts to pump water over a hill from the river Seine.
 
“We are going to make the impossible possible,” Eliasson had earlier declared, “to make dreams come true”.
 
Photo: Anders Sune Berg/Chateau de Versailles Official Website
 
But Mother Nature in the shape of the floods that swelled the Seine last week almost undid his plans, the 49-year-old artist admitted.
 
 “Several people… kept working in the downpours while their homes were threatened by the water,” he said, paying tribute to the workers who helped install the artworks.
 
Climate change is a major theme for the artist, who grew up in Iceland. Another of the works he has created in the Colonnade Grove at Versailles is from dust left by a melting Greenland glacier that also featured in an installation he made for the COP21 climate change conference in Paris late last year.
 
Eliasson with his glacier installation in Paris last year. Photo: AFP
 
“For some people it might look like worthless mud,” he said, but the fertility of “this dust is what made civilisation”.
 
Eliasson's installations — which will be on show until October 30 — follow British-Indian artist Anish Kapoor's controversial “Queen's vagina” sculpture at the palace last year.
 
It was repeatedly defaced, once with anti-Semitic graffiti, which drew condemnation from French President Francois Hollande.

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ARCHITECTURE

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles

Rising high beyond an ancient Roman arena in Arles, a tall, twisted tower created by Frank Gehry shimmers in the sun, the latest futuristic addition to this southern French city known for its World Heritage sites.

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles
Gehry's Luma Tower opens in Arles, France. Photo: H I / Pixabay

The tower, which opens to the public on Saturday, is the flagship attraction of a new “creative campus” conceived by the Swiss Luma arts foundation that wants to offer artists a space to create, collaborate and showcase their work.

Gehry, the 92-year-old brain behind Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum and Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, wrapped 11,000 stainless steel panels around his tower above a huge glass round base.

It will house contemporary art exhibitions, a library, and offices, while the Luma Arles campus as a whole will host conferences and live performances.

From a distance, the structure reflects the changing lights of this town that inspired Van Gogh, capturing the whiteness of the limestone Alpilles mountain range nearby which glows a fierce orange when the sun sets.

Mustapha Bouhayati, the head of Luma Arles, says the town is no stranger to
imposing monuments; its ancient Roman arena and theatre have long drawn the
crowds.

The tower is just the latest addition, he says. “We’re building the heritage of tomorrow.”

Luma Arles spreads out over a huge former industrial wasteland.

Maja Hoffmann, a Swiss patron of the arts who created the foundation, says
the site took seven years to build and many more years to conceive.

Maja Hoffmann, founder and president of the Luma Foundation. Photo: Pascal GUYOT / AFP

Aside from the tower, Luma Arles also has exhibition and performance spaces in former industrial buildings, a phosphorescent skatepark created by South Korean artist Koo Jeong A and a sprawling public park conceived by Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets.

‘Arles chose me’

The wealthy great-granddaughter of a founder of Swiss drug giant Roche, Hoffmann has for years been involved in the world of contemporary art, like her grandmother before her.

A documentary producer and arts collector, she owns photos by Annie Leibovitz and Diane Arbus and says she hung out with Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York.

Her foundation’s stated aim is to promote artists and their work, with a special interest in environmental issues, human rights, education and culture.

She refuses to answer a question on how much the project in Arles cost. But as to why she chose the 53,000-strong town, Hoffmann responds: “I did not choose Arles, Arles chose me.”

She moved there as a baby when her father Luc Hoffmann, who co-founded WWF,
created a reserve to preserve the biodiversity of the Camargue, a region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone river delta known for its pink flamingos.

The tower reflects that, with Camargue salt used as mural panels and the
delta’s algae as textile dye.

Hoffmann says she wants her project to attract more visitors in the winter, in a town where nearly a quarter of the population lives under the poverty line.

Some 190 people will be working at the Luma project over the summer, Bouhayati says, adding that Hoffman has created an “ecosystem for creation”.

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