Inside the New Celestial Public Art Exhibition at Le Bon Marché

Gabriel de la Chapelle

Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos once made a 15-foot-high chandelier out of tampons––fourteen thousand of them.

Known as “The Bride,” the piece helped win Vasconcelos a spot in the Venice Biennale of 2005 and later a major exhibition at the Palace of Versailles. Not all of the 47-year-old’s pieces are as provocative or large, but her signature works are massive, arresting, joke-like sculptures, often floating in midair.

Gabriel de la Chapelle

Last week, Vasconcelos unveiled her latest creation: Simone, a giant, white, bug-like creature that aggressively fills the atrium of Le Bon Marché, Paris’ fabled department store. Illuminated and bejeweled, the 100-foot-long Simone, who has been described as “a spaceship halfway between a flying machine and a giant ant,” wraps herself around escalators and hovers menacingly over a Tom Ford makeup counter. Whether she has come to kidnap Le Bon Marché’s shoppers or protect them is unclear.

According to Vasconcelos, “Simone is an homage to two powerful French heroes who passionately and intelligently fought for not only women’s but human rights in general, and, coincidentally, shared the same name: Simone du Beauvoir and Simone Weil.”

Gabriel de la Chapelle

“It was most important for me to be able to embrace the iconic escalators,” the artist continued, “so as to further interact with the Le Bon Marché visitors, and the lighting that accompanies this body was programmed to be reminiscent of underwater creatures, such as medusas, that have a light of their own. My intention was to bring to Le Bon Marché an otherworldly figure that, although of a baroque nature for its profuse decoration, is also futuristic and alien.”

This is not the first time the department store has installed a monumental sculpture by a renowned artist. For almost 150 years Le Bon Marché has held a “white month” sale in the middle of winter. (Goods covered in the sale had to be white.) Recently, the store began commissioning installations to celebrate the occasion. In 2015, Ai Weiwei filled the store with snarling monsters made out of rice paper, and the following winter Chiharu Shiota turned the space into a seascape of boats made out of yarn. All were white, of course. 

“In the end, I just hope that Simone creates a sense of awe and that those who mingle with her leave Le Bon Marché with a smile on their face,” said Vasconcelos.

The current show lasts until February 17.