Modern Sculpture and Medals

photo: minister tasca views lichtenstein tip of the hat

Invited guests bump themselves to see Tuileries'
new addition: 'Tip of the Hat' by Roy Lichtenstein.

Honors In the Tuileries

Paris:- Wednesday, 25. October 2000:- When I got up this morning long before noon I had no idea that I would attend my first official French Legion of Honor awards ceremony. Luckily I have no honors of my own that I forget to wear.

In fact, I thought I was merely going to get a 'freebie' view of France's Minister of Culture - and of Communication! - Catherine Tasca, inspecting the latest pieces of modern sculpture to be installed in the Tuileries.

There are other ministers who are more visible to the media in France due to their day-to-day involvement with public business, but Madame Tasca is in the 'super-minister' category because she is the boss of all the media - and, of culture - which is usually written with a capital 'C.'

But this wasn't a mono-minister show; Madame le Ministre was to be with Michel Duffour, State Secretary for France's Patrimony - but I don't know what he looks like, while lady super-ministers are easy to spot.

I haven't been invited to an affair of this type before. Late last week I got shanghaied into this, whenphoto: posing kelly sculpture my neighbor photographer, André Morain, asked me to help out with a photo for the event's brochure, that had to be ready for today.

The problem was, the piece by Ellsworth Kelly, wasn't to arrive until Monday, and the photo of his sculpture - in place - had to be at the printer's in Dijon by noon. Readers of last Monday's Café column might remember this, but I have to repeat some of it for those coming in late.

With the right crane, Ellsworth Kelly's 'Untitled' is edged into place on Monday.

Kelly's 1.5-ton black bronze called 'Untitled' arrived on time on Monday. But the truck's crane wasn't strong enough and another had to be called. My camera wasn't strong enough to make a big-enough photo for the printer, but we called in another photographer neighbor, and between the three of us we got a less than perfect file to Dijon.

And - whew! - today I have my copy of the brochure, and the photos are in it. Whose are whose is difficult to tell - they look about 50-50 to me - and this applies to their quality too.

So the show is ready to roll when Madame le Ministre shows up to lead the invited Parisian and foreign dignitaries who form the art crowd, on a tour of the Tuileries' new treasures.

Modern sculptures in the Tuileries is the tail-end of a grand program of renovation that started in 1991. One part of this was a huge replanting of trees; with the happy result that few were blown away during last December's hurricane.

About three years ago, French sculptor Alain Kirili was called in to continue a program originally begun by André Malraux - to add modern sculpture to the park's existing open-air collection of classical pieces.

Well, all of these pieces aren't necessarily classical becausephoto: viewing kelly sculpture they include works by Rodin, Henry Moore, Giacometti, Max Ernest and Jean Dubuffet - so Alain Kirili's job was to add works by 'living artists,' many of whom he knows or has known personally.

I guess I have this backwards. It is Alain Kirili who leads the minister and the rest of us around, mainly to see the most recently installed pieces.

Today, Kelly's sculpture is viewed by the minister and invited guests.

For this reason he was on hand, plus Monsieur Mario was called out of retirement to oversee the actual installations, when I showed up to put my two centimes in last Friday and again on Monday.

Monsieur Mario's contribution is worth mentioning because this kind of permanent open-air show has to be installed to be stronger than the elements and modern society's plague of vandals, not to mention other jealous artists.

For example, when one of the name-plaques had to be moved to make room for the new one for Roy Lichtenstein, Monsieur Mario's diggers discovered the plaque's base was bigger underground than on the surface. Dynamite was nearly needed to move it.

While we waited for the installation of the two pieces by Lichtenstein, we took a look at the rear of the Jeu de Paume to see the location of the piece by Ellsworth Kelly.

Alain Kirili told me that Ellsworth Kelly first arrived in France, like a great number of tourists from the United States, during the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944. After the war Kelly spent eight years in France, and for this he donated his 1988 bronze creation, titled 'Untitled.'

From it's location at the rear of the Jeu de Paume, you can see the 'RF' for République Française on the building, plus the tip of Concorde's Obelisk - and when winter drops the leaves you might be able to see some of the Tour Eiffel as well. This was worked out between Kelly and Alain Kirili.

Naturally, we were supposed to get all of this in the photo, but Monsieur Mario declined to knock all the leaves off the trees for the Tour Eiffel part.

Mark Rossi was sent over from the United States with the statue, to make sure it showed up okay with its new black surface, and to make sure it was securely bolted into place on the block of cement provided by Monsieur Mario's crew.

For this, he brought his own set of big steel wrenches, which were required for the huge non-metric bolts. Mr. Rossi has a cool job, flying around the world with heavy cargo-sized excess baggage, installing artworks wherever he goes.

Kelly's location choice was based on his piece's proximity to Maillol's nudes; for his 'nu sans nombril' - nude without a belly-button. This is the first piece Catherine Tasca is shown by Alain Kirili today.

After a suitably long look and some chit-chat I don't hear, the minister, the art director and the invited art crowd move over to where the two pieces by Roy Lichtenstein were planted last Friday.

Dorothy Lichtenstein is on hand to explain 'Galetea' and 'Coup de Chapeau II' - Tip of the Hat - to Catherine Tasca and the audience. I don't hear any of this either; but I will read the new twin plaques later.

I have the feeling that we are all characters in a 'Dolce Vita' scene by Fellini. Colored leaves are falling from a sky trying to lighten, and the crowd is well-dressed, mostly in black as if we are at an autumn funeral in Rome, with plenty of video coverage.photo: minister tasca, daniel dezeuze

Meanwhile the rest of the Tuileries has its ordinary strollers and commuters who pay us no attention at all, and occasional joggers and runners are flashing by.

Comfortably installed on 'Confidence 1999-2000,' sculptor Daniel Dezeuze has an exchange of views with the Minister of Culture, Catherine Tasca.

We next arrive at a part of the Tuileries where all the works are 'touchy-feelie' and the next piece is for sitting on - or rather, for two people to sit on. Since the photo doesn't show all of it, 'Confidence 1999-2000' is really a 'love-seat' which has its bronze backrests made to resemble thick bamboo shoots.

The minister and the artist try it out while having a bit of chit-chat as if they are in some indoor salon, and it seems to work fine as a practical piece of park furniture. When I first saw it, I thought it was merely a stand of bamboo - of which there really isn't much in the Tuileries.

After all of this non-brisk stroll in the fresh noontime air we fetch up at the Rue de Rivoli, where ministerial cars are waiting. The VIPs zoom off and the rest of us head east, to the ministry's headquarters at Palais Royal, where we arrive after the minister but before other ministerial free-ride passengers.

Up marble stairs, in a large fancy room overlooking the Palais Royal's interior courtyard - with much gilding, several very elaborate chandeliers - this is Cardinal Richelieu's Palais Royal after all! - there is a room-wide buffet table at either end, for the 'after' for the about-to-begin awards ceremony.

This turns out to be informal. Catherine Tasca, France's Minister of Culture and of Communication, first honors Mr. Robert Stone, who is a multi-art brain in the service of New York's MOMA and too many other institutions for me to note - but it's an impressive list.

At the end of this recital, Madame Tasca pins on a 'Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur, d'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres' on Mr. Stone's suit. For Madame Dorothy Lichtenstein - who has also been doing a lot of good work in the art scene - the award is 'Officier de la Légion d'Honneur, d'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.'

It is important to mention these, because you may just be an ordinary starving artist in your own country, but if France finds out about you, you may be awarded a neat medal for all your efforts.

For Alain Kirili's efforts, both as a sculptor and as the temporary art director of the Tuileries' new acquisitionsphoto: legion of honor awards ceremony of modern sculpture department, the award is 'Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur, d'Ordre Nationale des Arts' - which is several grades higher, even if the names - if I've gotten them right - seem similar.

These kinds of honors, created by Napoléon in 1802, are not handed out willy-nilly - even in France - and today's recipients appear to be properly proud of them. Even I feel pretty good about it all too.

With Robert Stone and Dorothy Lichtenstein looking on, Catherine Tasca pins a Legion of Honor medal on Alain Kirili.

But just as I'm finishing my notes I see the waiter with the orange juice and Champagne pass, but he disappears before I can get a hand free.

The two buffet tables are properly mobbed by smoked salmon fanciers, some of whom seem to be having 'seconds' by finishing what they have and returning to the end of the lines filing along the buffet tables.

Instead of getting into this merry-go-round I decide to go and look at today's photos, and write this up while I can still remember all the crispy leaves underfoot, and the sculptures with the odd names.

For a bit of Légion d'Honneur lore, this is a Web site you may want to look at, possibly to see how many non-French citizens have been inducted into this somewhat exclusive French club.

With this, an extra 'Tip of the Hat' to the Tuileries. The gardens are open daily from 7:30 to 19:30 during the winter. No entry charge.

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