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The Bouroullecs light up the Palace of Versailles


A dramatic new chandelier created by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, with the support and expertise of Swarovski, lights up the entrance to the King’s Grand Apartments at the Palace of Versailles. It is the very first permanent artwork in Versailes – a great honour for the Bouroullec brothers.

Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec won the commission through a competition launched in 2011 by the Public Administration of the Palace, Museum and State Property Department for Versailles to create a permanent mobile artwork to adorn and illuminate the grand Gabriel Staircase at the main entrance to the palace.

The award-winning designers created a majestic chandelier made of Swarovski crystal. whose sweeping grace and modern lines integrate harmoniously with the historically charged location. The piece, which is over 12 metres high, is suspended in loops from the ceiling like a luminous transparent chain. It comprises three interlacing strands, each made of hundreds of Swarovski crystals illuminated by luminous LED light sources that diffuse a gentle, continuous and encircling light. These immense, supple lines form an organic design ruled by the laws of gravity – which each viewer will experience differently as the or she  gradually ascends the two flights of steps of the Staircase.

To create the chandelier, the designers chose crystal, the material traditionally used in the making of chandeliers for ceremonial rooms, in order to establish a strong link between the past and the present. They called upon the expertise and technological mastery of Swarovski, the prestigious Austrian crystal business, which has a longstanding collaborative relationship with the brothers and has supported the Palace of Versailles for more than 30 years.

The Bouroullecs’ creation is a delicate yet complex alliance of crystal and innovative lighting, two areas in which Swarovski has long become the point of reference. The project forms part of Swarovski’s major program of cultural support and ongoing patronage of art and design.

The Gabriel Staircase, a monumental space conceived by Ange-Jacques Gabriel in 1772, was never completed. Work resumed in the 1980s, but the finished staircase lacked a focal point. The installation of the Gabriel Chandelier in enriches these historic surroundings, emphasizing the entrance to the Grand Apartments whilst preserving the unique nature of the space.

INTERVIEW WITH RONAN & ERWAN BOUROULLEC 

The Palace of Versailles and the Gabriel Staircase, where your chandelier will hang, are of great historical significance. How did you approach designing a chandelier in this context?

We had to produce a piece which possessed character but which, unlike several contemporary art initiatives at Versailles in the past, was not a temporary installation, nor a work of art, nor an exhibition. The design brief was to create a chandelier to light the Gabriel Staircase, which is the public entrance to the Palace of Versailles. We worked for a year with the idea in mind not only to make a very beautiful piece of lighting, but also that is should be appropriate as a permanent feature in such an historic place, where it will perhaps be installed for a hundred years.

How did you respond to these two requirements?
After having considered other media such as stone, it seemed to us that crystal was the best response because, historically, all the chandeliers at Versailles were made with this material. This would ensure a link between past and present. Crystal is a living material, and new technology allows it to be used in new ways, so how it can be transformed today is radically different – Swarovski is striking proof of this. Then we thought that in the final analysis it was not perhaps necessary to give a delineated form to this piece of lighting but rather to try to arrange it so that the form naturally found its line from gravity. In this way we developed the idea of twists of crystal suspended from four points on the ceiling and tracing loops which subdivide into organic trees. In the end its shape arrived almost naturally.

Is there particular imagery, linked perhaps to the place, which resonated with you during the conception of the project?
It is an atmospheric space. It was necessary to avoid allusion and the problem was that this appropriateness had to reside in two somewhat contradictory imperatives: being contemporary and distinctly associated with our time without this mark of novelty or difference jarring with the setting. We were not particularly looking to create contrasts but at the same time we had to demonstrate that this piece is contemporary, that it is not historic and has never been part of the Palace. That is the principle which we elaborated which in fact gave us a form, without which it may be totally artificial but rather linked to gravity. Because it is effectively the number of pieces of crystal which make it up, the weight and the length which determine this form rather than a curve which we would have drawn. So this object has a very natural and organic aspect, which seems to me to be the appropriate way to insert it in time, because it is outside of fashion and outside of historic periods.

The Gabriel Chandelier is striking in that it appears very light and very powerful at the same time. did you set out to create this opposition?
The piece is extremely delicate but creates an effect that is almost wondrous. We set out to be very light – to not impose ourselves on it. But at the same time, we were not commissioned to produce a simple light. It was not a question of a simple gesture but rather of subtle research which gave birth to an object which for different reasons, notably technical ones, is truly contemporary. Because it was created by the Swarovski workshops using today’s most advanced technology, it is a true tour de force.

What are the features of this piece that you conceived in Swarovski workshops and how does it constitute a technical tour de force?

If we were to describe the Gabriel Chandelier, we could say it comprises a central axis around which, like beads, almost 500 pieces of crystal are threaded. Inside each of these pieces are enclosed blocks containing LEDs, a recent lighting technology. Each of these pieces thus possesses its own lighting system which is far more complex than a bulb. This produces the effect of a light which is continuous but fairly diffuse without one really noticing from where it is coming, since thanks to the manner in which each of the crystals has been cut, the light is diffracted and the eye is slightly confused. The eye cannot really understand where these light- sources are, mainly because the cable is invisible because it runs inside a chrome tube which produces a mirror effect, giving the illusion of disappearance. It is therefore quite magical and surprising because one cannot truly grasp how light is contained within this thread of crystal.

So this piece of lighting is a totally new and innovative concept?
It does involve some quite radical engineering. That is why, with the Palace of Versailles, we approached Swarovski for its development. There is no other firm dealing with crystal that has achieved this level of excellence in terms of research, innovation and technical excellence. Swarovski has truly been the perfect collaborator for trying something totally new and surprising in a way that is extremely sophisticated and not ostentatious. As it happens, we had already carried out a previous project with them some years ago and we understood that we were dealing with serious people who are part of a dwindling group of businesses who are really committed to research and innovation, and for whom research is not just a marketing term.

ALL ABOUT RONAN & ERWAN BOUROULLEC

Ronan (born 1971) and Erwan Bouroullec (born 1976) are brothers and desi
gners based in Paris. They have been working together for about 15 years, bonded by diligence and challenged by their distinct personalities. Their studio is based in Paris.

In 1997, they were spotted by Cappellini, giving them their first industrial design projects. They began working with the Galerie kreo in 2000 and had their first solo show there in 2001. Issey Miyake then hired them to design the boutique to house his new collection “A-Poc They met then Rolf Felhbaum, president of Vitra, and worked on a new office system entitled “Joyn.” Since then, they have gone on to work with Alessi, Axor Hansgrohe, Cappellini, Established & Sons, Flos, Hay, Kvadrat, Kartell, Ligne Roset, Magis, , Mattiazzi, Mutina, Nani Marquina and Vitra.

From designing spaces to furniture to accessories, taking on architectural projects to designing textile wall systems or comprehensive collections, the designers maintain experimental activity with Gallery kreo, which is also essential to the development of their work.

Designs of Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec are part of select international museums’ permanent collections, such as the Musée National d’Art Moderne – Centre Pompidou and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris; the Museum of Modern Art in New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Design Museum in London; and the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam. Several monographic exhibitions have been devoted to their work: “Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec” at the Design Museum, London (2002) and “Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec” at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2004), “Album” at the Vitra Design Museum (2012) and “Bivouac” at the Centre Pompidou Metz (2012) and then at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (2012-2013). In 2013, the Arts Décoratifs, Paris presented “Momentané.”

A comprehensive monograph was released in 2012, Works, Phaidon Press. In 2013, under the art direction of Cornel Windlin, JRP Ringier published a 864-page paperback book called Drawing; it collects more than 850 drawings that Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec made between 2005 and 2012.  


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