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Meet : Joana Vasconcelos

Culture | 07 janvier 2018


After Ai Weiwei in 2016, Chiharu Shiota in 2017, and Leandro Erlich in 2018, it is the turn of Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos to take over Le Bon Marché with her exhibition event “Branco Luz”*.

Joana Vasconcelos established herself in the contemporary art world with works of art with dramatic proportions, featuring light-hearted, baroque forms, which reveal a rich imagination, a taste for tradition as well as provocation and transgression.
For Le Bon Marché she has designed “Simone”, a strange, immaculate and invading creature suspended under the central skylights. This creature is a Valkyrie, a particularly striking and recurrent mythological creature in Joana Vasconcelos's work and which can also be seen in the store’s windows.
Meet an artist who defies the rules of art and takes us on a journey with “Branco Luz” to an undiscovered white planet.

Joana Vasconcelos in a few words...

Joana Vasconcelos is a Portuguese artist and one of the most famous figures on the contemporary art scene. In fact, she was the first female artist invited to exhibit at the Palace of Versailles in 2012, she represented Portugal at the Venice Biennale in 2013, and she was featured in a monumental exhibition at the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao in 2018.

Her work combines everyday objects, applied arts and craft skills from Portuguese culture, such as ceramics, embroidery and even ironwork.

Portrait of Joana Vasconcelos in Lisbon
©Alexandre Berger

This fusion brings about creations which are at the frontier between sculpture and monumental installations, which the artist often exhibits in public areas.

Joana Vasconcelos is an artist who plays with humour and fantasy while creating a work of art with engaging content that is deeply rooted in today’s society.

Golden Valkyrie, 2012, Palace of Versailles
©Joana Vasconcelos

4 questions for Joana Vasconcelos

How did you react to Le Bon Marché’s proposal to exhibit an original work of art in the store?

I know Le Bon Marché well. When I stay in Paris, first I head to the Centre Georges Pompidou to see some exhibitions and to Le Bon Marché to take in the air that we breathe in the world of fashion and design. This shows me what the current trends are in terms of looks, packaging, etc. and it gives me the feel of the moment. It is important to me to understand how designers of my time think.

Portrait of Joana Vasconcelos at Le Bon Marché
©Alexandre Berger

Yet the art-deco, almost minimalist, architecture at Le Bon Marché is a stark contradiction to your baroque forms, your wavy lines and your abundant motifs. Did the proposal not seem like mission impossible to you?

No, because my Valkyries adapt to the architecture around them and to the atmospheres in which they are placed. My Valkyrie easily fits into a geometric environment, even though its forms are rather organic.

Just as Le Bon Marché combines tradition and modernity, my Valkyries create a link between contemporary design and ancestral mythological heritage.

Valkyrie “Simone”, production, 2018
©Luis Vasconcelos

My Valkyries adapt to the architecture around them and to the atmospheres in which they are placed

What is a Valkyrie?

In Nordic mythology, Valkyries are goddesses who fly over battlefields and take the heroes’ souls to Valhalla, the grand palace of Odin, who is the ruler of the gods, so that these warriors fight for him in the final battle. That’s how the legend goes...

For me, my Valkyries are powerful and good-willed creatures, and much more sensual than the mythological goddesses! It is a figure from a series that I have been creating since I was 15 years old. These pieces are made from inflatable elements, which are covered in a variety of fabrics and embroidery.

Valkyrie Azulejos, Trafaria Praia, 2013
©Joana Vasconcelos

Can you tell us about this “Simone”, this strange creature who has taken over Le Bon Marché?

The Valkyrie which I designed for Le Bon Marché flows through the escalators smoothly, glides like the mythological goddess below the skylight and integrates harmoniously into the space. Her name, “Simone”, is connected to the warrior aspect of the woman, which is embodied by two French female figures who stood out in history for their activism: Simone de Beauvoir and Simone Weil. But, above all, it pays homage to all of today’s women!

What message would you like to give to the visitors of the “Branco Luz” exhibition?

I would like to say that I am very happy to be able to present a work of contemporary art in such an unusual place. I hope that the public will let themselves be surprised by this exhibition at Le Bon Marché, the only place which makes it possible to bring these two usually distant worlds together.

Portrait of Joana Vasconcelos, photo credit
©Alexandre Berger