Jeff Koons: Prince of the Blood Feud


Split-Rocker, Photograph by Todd Eberle.


If Jeff Koons had his way with Versailles, Louis XIV would have confronted Split-Rocker, the Janus-faced rocking horse topiary, when he looked out his window. A gold-plated “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” would wait for him in the hallway with his bedpan. Since this past fall, Koons has had his way with the palace and, with more than 500,000 visitors, the show has proved such a success that the directors decided to extend it through January 4. But not if Prince Charles-Emmanuel de Bourbon-Parme has anything to say about it. Charles-Emmanuel filed a suit against the exhibit, calling the exhibition “a desecration and an attack on the respect due to the dead.”  At the beginning of December, he sent an open letter to Sarkozy, calling for the “withdrawal of the scandalous objects.” On December 26, an administrative tribunal decided that those complaints were not enough. The judge announced that the exhibition did not constitute an attack “on fundamental liberties,” nor pose a threat to the lives of visitors or their children


The Prince claims to be the direct descendant of Louis XIV, but a Google search returns only a small, dark-haired man in black suits who looks nothing like his ancestors (no wig, wha?). Wikipedia backs him up (and it’s not as if we doubted him), but the explanation of his provenance raises a whole slew of questions: Who is a Prince of the Blood? And why are Dukes called Princes?


The Bourbon family tree is frought with complicated and mysterious loops and twists. Charles-Emmanuel is a direct descendant through the male line of Philip V of Spain, the French King of Spain. There is no easy explanation for how a Frenchman came to rule Spain. If you didn’t learn it in ninth grade European History, you sure aren’t going to learn it now. In short: conflicting successions, renouncements, deaths and descendants led to the  War of Spanish Succession. Philip V won and had two sons: the elder became the King of Spain and the younger became the Duke of Parma. This created two lines of French/Spanish royalty—the Kings of Spain and the Dukes of Parma (so the Dukes are called Princes because they are so closely related to the kings). After many, many years, that line of Dukes produced a young man named Prince Michel de Bourbon-Parma (or for the Prince, Dad) who, with the help of a young Princess (Mom), produced a Jeff Koons-hating Charles-Emmanuel.


Part of the Prince’s suit claimed that the exhibit doesn’t show due respect to his ancestors. He was also scandalized by Koons’ previous marriage to La Cicciolina, famed Italian porn star, with whom he made naughtier works earlier in his career. The exhibit doesn’t actually have any pornographic art in it. Maybe Charles-Emmanuel should have taken a look into the Dukes and Kings that preceded him. Magenta dog balloons may be one of the tamer things Versailles has seen.