After Ai Weiwei in 2016, Chiharu Shiota in 2017, and Leandro Erlich in 2018, it was Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos’ turn to take over the windows and interior spaces of my favourite Parisian Store, Le Bon Marché.
She is one of the few female artists to have reached international stardom in the contemporary art world, thanks to works whose impressive scale and humorous baroque shapes reveal a fertile imagination, a taste for both tradition and provocation.
Joana Vasconcelos thinks big and lives up to her own ambitions. The former karate black belt knows how to strike with force. She caused a sensation at the Venice Biennale in 2005, where she presented A Noiva (The Bride), a 20ft-high Louis-XVIII chandelier with strings made of 14,000 tampons instead of glass beads!
In the spotlight is “Simone”, a strange and invasive aerial suspension, floating under the glass roof. The immaculate organic form hugs the escalator, goes around the iron and steel pillars, and hovers silently over the sections of the store. The UFO displays extraordinary dimensions – it is 100ft long, 40ft wide, and 30ft high. It is a Valkyrie, one of the sprawling, sensual creatures that first appeared in the artist’s work in 2004.
Unlike the Nordic war legend, Joana Vasconcelos bestows benevolent powers upon them. Her valkyries are powerful and protective female figures who give humans strength and courage. Their envelope made of a patchwork of various fabrics combined with crochet embroidery and precious trimmings gives them a contagious touch of extravagance, like those who will meander through the external windows. But the most spectacular figure, the one suspended at the heart of Le Bon Marché, a spaceship halfway between a flying machine and a giant ant, radiates through the space with its soothing presence, inviting clients to set off for an unknown planet.
Joana Vasconcelos was born in Paris in 1971. She has Portuguese roots and studied art in Lisbon, where she lives and works. She has exhibited regularly since 1995, but she gained international fame with her contribution to the 51st Venice Biennial in 2005, which attracted a lot of attention.
Vasconcelos is the first woman and youngest contemporary artist to date to have exhibited at the Château de Versailles (2012), after Jeff Koons, Bernar Venet, and Takashi Murakami. She represented Portugal at the 51st Venice Biennale and took part in the exhibition Le monde vous appartient at the Grassi / François Pinault Foundation (2011). She has already had two important retrospectives, first at the Museu Coleção Berardo in Lisbon (2010), and then last year at the Bilbao Guggenheim. Her most recent solo exhibitions took place at the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain de Strasbourg (2018), at the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum in Aarhus, Denmark (2016), and at Waddesdon Manor – Rothschild Foundation in Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom (2015). Her work is featured in the collections of the greatest contemporary art museums and has been the subject of several books, including Joana Vasconcelos: Material World (Thames & Hudson, 2015), Art XXL : Quand les artistes pensent grand (Prestel, 2014), and Le Dictionnaire Universel des Femmes Créatrices (Des Femmes, 2013). Joana Vasconcelos is represented by Casa Triângulo in São Paulo, Galería Horrach Moyà in Palma de Mallorca, Galerie Scheffel in Bad Homburg, Galerie Valérie Bach/La Patinoire Royale in Brussels, and Pearl Lam Galleries in Hong Kong/Shanghai/Singapore.