Paris Is Abuzz Over This Otherworldly Sculpture in Le Bon Marché

4 years ago

When French department store Le Bon Marché invited Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos to create works for its windows and interior spaces, no one could imagine what she would come up. Perhaps most well known for her iconic sculptures of giant shoes made with pans and lids, she caused a sensation at the Venice Biennale in 2005 with her 20-foot-high chandelier. The artist has never been one to shy away from unusual materials loaded with meaning; that particular project was crafted from some 14,000 tampons.

Vasconcelos stands before part of Branco Luz.

Photo: Alexandre Berger

Vasconcelos was the first woman, and the youngest artist ever, invited to exhibit at the Chateau de Versailles in 2012. And on the heels of a retrospective at the Bilbao Guggenheim in Spain last year, she will now be inaugurating this new work in Paris on January 17. Called Branco Luz, or “White Light” in Portuguese, Vasconcelos has created a monumental creature to inhabit the interior space of the store—100 feet long, 40 feet wide, and 30 feet high. The work is a monumental, fabric covered, inflatable sculpture, conceived with fantasy and humor. It hangs in the space like a giant insect, or perhaps a spaceship, embellished with sequins, pearls, crochet embroidery, LED lights, and metallic fabric. The work is what the artist calls a Valkyrie, a female figure from Norse mythology, one who determines life and death in battle.

The intricate sculpture in detail.

Photo: Luis Vasconcelos

AD caught up with Vasconcelos after she had just landed in Paris, preparing to celebrate her work in only a few days. Of the department-store commission, Vasconcelos says, “The idea was to make a connection between craft and technology—I used Portuguese fabrics and incorporated LED lights in three colors. The one request from the client was to create an all-white work,” she says. “It was very interesting to do this and I had to rethink things, as I am a baroque artist who uses lots of colors.”

Another view of the piece, which debuts to the public on January 17.

Photo: Gabriel de la Chapelle

Vasconcelos is a highly animated and enthusiastic person. Asked how it feels to be following in the footsteps of art stars such as Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami at Versailles, and now Ai Weiwei at Le Bon Marché, she says, “I never really cared about this, but the first I had to deal with this was in 2005 in Venice, and I was this young Portuguese artist no one had ever heard of. I struggled with this, but it set me on a very strong path—I don’t compare myself with other artists.” She adds, “I am very privileged and honored to be a part of these artists showing now.”

A computer model of the overall design.

Photo: Courtesy of Atelier Joana Vasconcelos

What would she like people to take away from this fantastical, monumental installation? “A smile and good energy.” Those in Paris can view Branco Luz in person through mid-February, and Vasconcelos’s other work will appear in various exhibitions throughout the year—from Portugal and Germany to Ireland and, in 2020, Waddesdon Manor in the United Kingdom for a Lord Rothschild–hosted show.


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