Tag Archives: César Baldaccini

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, a bland and old-fashioned 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 day job as a low-level bureaucrat oppressed by his boss.

In the end, he accidentally ingests medication that extinguishes 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 the 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 admire the work’s edginess.

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

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

Paris Wanderlust: A Museum of Memento Mori in Montparnasse Cemetery

A Museum of Memento Mori in Montparnasse Cemetery

Poets & philosophers

Baudelaire’s cenotaph

Twenty-five years after the death of Charles Baudelaire, the literati of Paris decided in 1892 to erect a cenotaph dedicated to the poète maudit.

Rodin was commissioned to sculpt the monument, but he only got as far as the head of Baudelaire before funding lagged. Rodin would later state:

What’s a statue, in fact? A body, arms and legs covered in ordinary clothes? What use are they to Baudelaire, who lived only through his mind? His head is all that matters.

Enter José de Charmoy, a relatively unknown French sculptor. Having already designed a sculpture dedicated to the poet, Charmoy offered it to the committee. His cenotaph now stands at the end of a path, against a wall.

Cenotaph of Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

More than just a head, Charmoy’s monument to the poète maudit consists of three figures. A shrouded corpse lies rigid and insensate:

An elongated, skeletal bat clings to the vertical monolith. So Baudelaire.

And at the pinnacle, a square-jawed thinker leans forward, chin on fists, sunken eyes gazing into nothingness with acute . . . ennui.

A lifesaver for Robert Desnos

Poet Robert Desnos, an active member of the French Resistance, was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944. After being sent to three different Nazi concentration camps, he ended up in Theresienstadt, a camp in occupied Czechoslovakia. He died of typhoid at age 44, a month after the camp was liberated.

At the end of one of his poems, Desnos writes:

You’ll put a life saver on my grave. Because one never knows.

His devotees have obliged.

Robert Desnos (1900-1945)

A mailbox for Cioran

On the grave of Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran sits a mailbox. When I was there, several messages had been deposited.

Emile Cioran (1911-1995)

To conceive the act of thought as a poison bath, the pastime of an elegiac viper.

Cioran, Anathemas and Admirations

Parma violets for Tristan Tzara

Has Dada ever spoke to you about Parma violets

NEVER NEVER NEVER

Tristan Tzara (1896-1963)

Here we are dropping our anchor in fertile ground.

“Life is a gift that is lost . . .”

La vie est un don perdu pour celui qui ne l’a pas vécu comme il aurait voulu.

Life is a gift that is lost to those who haven’t lived the way they would have liked.

This adage by 19th-century Romanian poet Mihai Eminescu has a whiff of impossibility. Can a person really arrive at the end of life and have no regrets? It would require predicting what the future you would deem to have been a squandered gift of life.

But loosely interpreted as a memento mori — follow your passions before it’s too late — I can live with that.

Le Musée Montparnasse

The Enlightened Centaur

I first met Baldaccini’s iconic Centaur at a busy intersection in Paris. Baldaccini used scrap metal to create the bricolaged man-horse.

The Centaur by César Baldaccini (1921-1998), at Place Michel-Debré (6e)

Yes, garden tools and a violin scroll protrude from the centaur’s anus. Even so, he radiates extraordinary dignity. His front leg and arm are poised as if he were about to impart reason.

Perhaps this centaur is more related to the Houyhnhnms, the tribe of intelligent horses in Gulliver’s Travels, than to the concupiscent man-beasts of ancient Greek myth.

The same sculpture poses on the grave of Baldaccini:

The Pilgrim by Baltasar Lobo

Le Pèlerin is exhibited on the tomb of its creator, Spanish-French artist Baltasar Lobo.

Baltasar Lobo (1910-1993)

The Prophet

On the grave of Polish-French artist Léopold Kretz stands his sculpture Le prophète:

Léopold Kretz (1907-1990), Le prophète

Images of women

Alien Venus

Philippe Hiquily was a sculptor whose wide-hipped female forms de-emphasizing limbs and heads recall prehistoric Venus sculptures, which magnify childbearing potential. Hiquily sometimes gives his metallic women spindly limbs and oddly shaped heads, lending an insectile humour to their provocative eroticism.

Here lies one such enigma, in her otherworldly glory, on Hiquily’s tomb:

Philippe Hiquily (1925-2013)

Some hybrids & metamorphoses

Fish boobs? Huh?
Alex Berdal (b. 1945), Poisson Sirène

The secret of the bronze Fish Siren? The breasts on one side.

Inscription on the other side of the female fish:

Il fait son choix d’anchois et dine d’une sardine.
Essentially, if less elegantly: He chose anchovy but got sardine.

Mystery pelican

On the grave of painter Gérard Barthélémy stands a bushy pelican that seems to be morphing into a plant.

Pelican by Denis Mondineu (1942-2019) on the grave of Gérard Barthélémy (1938-2002)

The pelican emerges from a tree stump; its legs and toes resemble the roots:

The pelican’s feathers appear like leaves:

And the pelican’s body sprouts flora:

Perhaps an Ovidian metamorphosis is happening?

A bejeweled turtle for Huysmans

Novelist Karl-Joris Huysmans turned Zola’s naturalism on its head in À rebours, the novel championed by a generation of writers embracing Decadence as an aesthetic.

The connoisseur Des Esseintes, in his mania to fashion ever-refined sensory experiences, decides that he needs a living creature moving about an oriental carpet in order to set off its colours and texture. He purchases a turtle, whose shell he plates in gold and encrusts with precious stones.

Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907)

However, the embedded jewels weigh down the animal until it expires. The doomed turtle is one of the most arresting images from Huysmans’ novel — a sort of Faustian demise by proxy.

A Porcelain Cat for Ricardo Menon

Sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle created a colourful cat for the grave of her close friend Ricardo Menon, who died of AIDS in 1989.

Inscription: “For our close friend Ricardo, who died too soon, young, loved, and handsome. 10 June 1952 – 21 Sept 1989”

Aside: Another work in Paris by Niki de Saint Phalle is the Stravinsky Fountain at Centre Pompidou (with co-creator Jean Tinguely). Below is her fantastical Firebird from that fountain:

A delicate mantid

The shiny blue-and-red creature by Agathon suggests a praying mantis’ delicate structure and pose.

Sculpture by Agathon (b. 1979) on the grave of Ginette Cohen Salmon née Olek (1943-1997)

Agathon’s sculpture, with its bright colours and fantastical shape, recalls the sculptures of Niki de Saint Phalle.

Biomorphisms

Stained glass & mosaics

A medievalist in the Belle Époque

Bellery-Henri Desfontaines was a decorative artist of the late 19th century. As the mosaic on his tombstone suggests, he embraced the Belle Époque interest in Medieval art and tapestry.

Bellery-Henri Desfontaines (1867-1909)
Simple blue stars — unpretentiously notable . . .
Tomb of Théodore Dauphin (1848-1917)

Numerology

The intriguing sculpture on this Jewish-Christian tomb is the opposite of simple:

Perhaps the numbers, counting down from 12 to 1 and starting over at 12, represent a clock or sundial?

A planet for Urbain le Verrier

French astronomer and mathematician Urbain le Verrier specialized in the motions of bodies in outer space. Using only mathematics, he played a key role in predicting the existence and position of Neptune.

Urbain Le Verrier (1811-1877)

An ammonite for Caillois

I assumed (incorrectly) that a scientist was buried at a tombstone embedded with an ammonite fossil:

Roger Caillois (1913-1978)

The grave is unmarked, but a bit of research reveals that it belongs to Roger Caillois, a sociologist and literary critic who wrote classic works on the sociology of the sacred and of play. Good to know. But why the ammonite?

Caillois was fascinated by mineralogy, and in The Writing of Stones he speaks of precious stones and fossils with an odd mixture of poetry and science. He views the patterns created by fossils inside stones as if they were inscriptions in the book of evolution:

Meanwhile the tree of life goes on putting out branches. A multitude of new inscriptions is added to the writing in stones. Images of fishes swim among dendrites of manganese as though among clumps of moss. A sea lily sways on its stem in the heart of a piece of slate. A phantom shrimp can no longer feel the air with its broken antennae. The scrolls and laces of ferns are imprinted in coal. Ammonites of all sizes, from a lentil to a millwheel, flaunt their cosmic spirals everywhere

from L’écriture des pierres, tr. Barbara Bray

A curious episode in the history of 20th-century poetry involves a debate between Caillois and chief Surrealist André Breton about the inner workings of the Mexican jumping bean. Caillois, whose poetic prose reflects on the patterns and colours inside jasper and petrified wood, proposed cutting open the “bean” to understand it. Breton, however, adamantly preferred to keep the object intact and to delve into its mystery solely through the power of his imagination.

Such are the debates of poets. The upshot? Breton excommunicated Caillois from his (very) exclusive club of Surrealists. Caillois is in good company in Montparnasse Cemetery — other poets ejected from Breton’s club include Robert Desnos and Tristan Tzara.

Just a couple more tombstones before the guard walks through the cemetery ringing his bell to signal the closing of the gates . . .

Famille Crestinu

Keep smiling . . .

De notre sourire gardez le souvenir. Souriez-vous pour nous!
Remember our smile, and smile for us!

Next: Romanizing the Parisii

Camille Martin