I recently visited Versailles in France. Everything about the palace, from the great halls and bedrooms to the massive garden was overwhelmingly extravagant.  I went to the Versailles exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia last weekend, and left disappointed – but not for the reason one may think. 

Outside one of Versailles’ many houses, France

Asking the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) to do Versailles justice would be an almost impossible task. I spent an entire day at Versailles, and still didn’t get to experience everything. There was too much to see and learn, and it would require at least two or three full days.

However, in Canberra, I completed the NGA’s Versailles exhibition in under an hour, and was asking ‘was that it?’. 

Upon entering the exhibition at the NGA, which will cost you anywhere from $20.40 to $78.45 (not including purchasing an audioguide) depending on your ticket type, you are greeted with a video montage of a several different rooms, with some background music.

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The begging video montage at the Versailles exhibition at the NGA, Canberra

There zero context to these images, and no voiceovers to tell people what they are looking it. If you watched it anywhere else, it would just look like a bunch of rooms.

This resonated with the rest of the exhibition, with very few of the pieces having their significance explained, and the ones that did were ‘stories’ about the respective god they resemble.

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Latona’s fountain at the NGA, Canberra

This is sad because there were some truly beautiful pieces there, including Latona’s fountain, magnificent carpets, busts of gods, treasures from the hall of mirrors and Marie Antoinette’s harp.

If there was more there to read about the pieces, what they meant, and why they were made, people would get a lot more out of the exhibition.

The $7 dollar audioguide makes the experience a little more worthwhile, but it also makes it more expensive. The guide gives the listener stories behind the palace, however it still doesn’t truly explain why what you are looking at is important.

In France, the Versailles has rich cultural and historic value. A snapshot of how the French monarch was living in a time of desperation, and how it eventually cost them their head after the Revolution.

The hall of mirrors Versailles, France

The hall of mirrors Versailles, France

At the NGA, without the audioguide, it’s just a bunch of people looking at shiny things.

If I hadn’t already gone to the actual Versailles I wouldn’t have been so bitterly disappointed with the layout. With that said, regardless of whether you’ve been to the real thing or not, don’t expect to come out the exhibition ‘cultured’.

There are literally hundreds of things worth seeing and experiencing at the NGA, the Versailles exhibition is not one of them.

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