Jean-Michel Othoniel‘s series of three fountain sculptures, Les Belles Danses (The Beautiful Dances), was the first permanent artwork showcased in Versailles’s gardens in over 300 years. The sculptures were produced using blown glass and gold leaf. The final installation consisted of 1,750 blown glass beads precisely designed in Murano and Basel to follow the curve of their metallic infrastructure. The result is a sculpture that hovers above and integrates with the fountain below, evoking King Louis XIV dancing on water.
With a marked taste for metamorphosis, sublimation, and transmutation, Jean-Michel Othoniel shows a fondness for materials with reversible properties. At the beginning of the 1990s, he started with works made out of wax or sulfur, exhibited at the Kassel Documenta in 1992. A turning point in his creative direction came the following year when he began employing glass in his works. Working with the finest glassmakers in Murano, he explored the properties of a material that subsequently became a hallmark of his career.
From 1996, he put this plan into action with works placed in the landscape; hanging giant necklaces in the gardens of the Villa Medici, Rome, and from trees in the gardens of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice (1997), as well as in the Alhambra and the Generalife in Granada (1999). In 2000, he carried out a public order for the first time, transforming the Paris subway station of Palais-Royal–Musée du Louvre into Le Kiosque des Noctambules, a double crown of glass and aluminum concealing a bench conducive to brief encounters in the sleeping city. Each of his many exhibitions has offered an opportunity to experiment with the multifaceted potential of glass: in 2003, at the show “Crystal Palace” at the Foundation Cartier in Paris and the MoCA in Miami, he had made blown-glass forms that soon morphed into enigmatic sculptures somewhere between jewelry, architecture, and erotic object. In the following year, 2004, under the umbrella of the exhibition “Contrepoint”, the Musée du Louvre came an invitation to exhibit in the spectacular Mesopotamian rooms, an occasion for the artist to show his first freestanding necklaces.