Paris Wanderlust: Sculptures — Fantasies & Hybrids

Sculptures — Fantasies & Hybrids

The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls

In Montmartre, a man is caught in the act of passing through a stone wall.

Jean-Bernard Métais, Le Passe-Muraille (2006), Rue Norvins (16e)

This unsettling sculpture is based on “Le Passe-Muraille,” a 1943 short story by Marcel Aymé. The main character, M. Dutilleul, is a Walter Mitty type, bland and old-fashioned, a middle-aged creature of habit. Suddenly and accidentally endowed with the magical ability to pass through walls, he secretly embarks on a series of escapades such as burglaries, while still holding his job as a low-level bureaucrat oppressed by his boss.

In the end, he accidentally ingests medication that puts an end to his superpowers at a most inopportune time: exactly at the moment he’s passing through a garden wall, returning home from a passionate tryst with a married woman.

The sculptor portrays Dutilleul as stuck, mid-stride, unable to escape the wall that forever after holds him prisoner.

The story imagines freedom, not only from confining walls but also from oppressive bosses and prison wardens. Written during the Nazi Occupation of Paris, such a fantasy — even though it ends badly for the protagonist — must have inspired in French readers a vision of liberation.

Lunar Bird Square

Communing with the moonbird . . .

Joan Miró, L’Oiseau Lunaire (1966), Rue Blomet (15e)

I can’t imagine a better playground for children than this little park that culminates in the large totemic Lunar Bird by Joan Miró. The rounded bronze solidity of the bird may have rendered it flightless, yet it practically levitates. Its head tilts skyward, and its little protuberances — wings, horns, beak — reach into the air on high alert.

Vestigial wings suit this monumental hummingbird.

The children seem to be inspired.

The Centaur

Garden tools jut out behind The Centaur, who seems to be created entirely from scrap metal.

Yet the mythical beast also radiates dignity and poise.

César Baldaccini, Le centaur (1985), Place Michel Debré (6e)

More about this distinguished centaur in my upcoming post on Cimetière du Montparnasse.

Bulgarian-French cross pollination

I happened upon a sidewalk exhibit by Bulgarian-French sculptor Jivko, whose work echoes archetypes of the ancient world and fairy tales of Eastern Europe.

Mairie (town hall) of the 6e arrondissement, 78 Rue Bonaparte

The dragon of the water facility

At a water control plant, a steel-and-plastic dragon slithers through pavement like a sci-fi hallucination.

Chinese-French artist Chen Zhen, La Danse de la Fontaine Emergente (2008), Rue Paul Klee (13e)

The work perhaps dips into the dragon iconography of the sculptor’s Chinese heritage. It also wryly references the urban myth of creatures that grow in sanitation culverts, like the alligators that supposedly live in the sewers of New York City.

The dragon’s ribbed tubular shape (resembling a vacuum cleaner hose) and ridge of dorsal plates give it a tongue-in-cheek rather than scary appearance. At night, its colourful neon lights enthrall clubbers spilling onto Place Augusta-Holmes.

A sculpture garden for Nelson Mandela

A balloon sculpture and “grassy” fence in Jardin Nelson Mandela offer a colourful contrast to the somber Gothic backdrop of Église St-Eustache.

Jardin Nelson Mandela, Les Halles (1er)

The exploding canoes of Diderot University

Dozens of aluminum canoes and boats explode next to a student walkway on the campus of Diderot University.

Nancy Rubins, Monochrome for Paris (2013) (13e)

Nancy Rubins, creator of Monochrome for Paris, brushes aside literal notions about her work that don’t necessarily deepen one’s experience of it. The number of boats used, or the sculpture’s placement near the Seine River, are not as relevant as the use of the boats to create something new. She likens the work to the growth of molecules into crystals.

Detail

A canary yellow Wallace Fountain with a background of crystallizing canoes:

Mystery at Place Nationale

Le Mystère reaches its full potential at Place Nationale.

Leonardo Delfino, Le Mystère (1990), Place Nationale (13e)

Les Colonnes de Buren

The black-and-white striped columns in the courtyard of Palais Royal were created by Daniel Buren way back in 1986. Even so, to this day the controversy following their installation haunts descriptions of them, similar to Pei’s still-notorious glass pyramid at the Louvre.

Children, however, don’t seem to find anything controversial about the columns. They’re more concerned with inventing games to play around them.

Daniel Buren, Les Deux Plateaux (a.k.a. Les Colonnes de Buren) (1986), Le Palais Royal (1er)

Below — as I understood the game — the girls were safe from the marauding boys as long as they occupied a column.

Homage to Rimbaud

Below, L’Homme aux Semelles Devant (The Man with Soles in Front) pays homage to poet Arthur Rimbaud.

The sculpture puns on Paul Verlaine’s nickname for Rimbaud, “l’homme aux semelles de vent” (the man with soles of wind). If I disregard the sculpture’s pun, I like the work’s edginess.

Photographed in the Marais, but since moved to Jardin Tino-Rossi.
Ipoustéguy, L’Homme aux Semelles Devant (1985)

Two sculptures by Ossip Zadkine

Le Prométhée (Prometheus)
Ossip Zadkine, Le Prométhée (1956), Place St-Germain-des-Prés (6e)
La Naissance des formes (The Birth of Forms)
Ossip Zadkine, La Naissance des formes (1958), Boulevard Edgar Quinet (14e)

Bas-relief of antler-man, somewhere on Rue Falguière

Next: Sculptures — Three Greats

Camille Martin

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