Two days ago, Paris made a pair of decisive moves. Let’s start with the simpler one, a statement that elicited huge sighs of relief from most quarters, not least the art world…
It all began in 2017, when superstar American sculptor Jeff Koons and the then US ambassador announced a generous gift to the City of Paris: a gigantic (of course) Koons sculpture ‘commemorating the victims of the massacres of 2015.’ It’s a hand holding up multi-colored balloons that resemble a bouquet of tulips. The hitch turned out to be that this work existed in only the mind and mock-ups of the artist; it would be Paris’ job to come up with the estimated 3-4 million Euros needed to create and install it where directed… in the heart of chic Paris, in front of the contemporary art museum Palais de Tokyo, far from the sites of the attacks of 2015. Thirty feet tall. Weighing 33 tons.
Toute Paris exploded. Some were appalled by the gift that keeps on taking, others by the proposed work itself. (See photo. You be the judge.) Hundreds of artists and gallery owners signed protest letters. Some called Koons’ approach to art ‘market-driven mass production’, utterly un-French, and his offer ‘product placement.’ Other, lonelier voices rather bravely defended the quality of the work. Since then, private donations have paid for its realization, which is stored in a studio in Germany.
This week, the Culture Minister deflected the Sword of Koons dangling over our heads by declaring the proposed location ground technically unstable, and unsuitable, and that a more appropriate spot would be found ‘on the periphery, easily accessible to tourists.’ (How far out is far enough? one wonders.) However, her meeting with the various stake-holders didn’t go too well. Koons and his entourage are livid, to say the least. So – no new location for Koons’ bouquet yet. Update expected in June. Wait – weren’t there massacres in Nice as well? And Marseilles? Maybe one of those towns would embrace a free monument by the world’s best-paid artist.
MEANWHILE, IN ANOTHER PART OF THE CITY…
At six a.m., police and gendarme commandos rolled in to clear the illegal encampment at Porte de la Villette, a populous and un-chic area – at the periphery – where about 1700 migrants/refugees (Mifugees? Refugrants? We need a new word here) have been living, some for a year or more, in a sea of small tents crushed together side-by-side along the canal. Sanitary conditions had become horrendous, rats ran riot, fights broke out constantly. After two accidental drowning deaths the government took action. Notified ahead of time, the inhabitants, mostly young men from the Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea, had packed their few belongings. They filed calmly to the buses waiting to take them to dispersed shelters ‘where their dossiers would be studied.’ Many expressed the hope that their situation in France would be regularized.
Little chance of that, given the ‘Dublin’ political accord that requires refugees to be returned to the country where they first entered. For most this would mean countries already proportionally overburdened with refugees, where the population is turning increasingly hostile and resources have run out.
Europe is wondrously rich. Even strapped Paris, it seems, can pony up a lousy few mil for a genuine Koons. One would like to think that a little judicious redistribution (say, less for unsolicited public art projects, more for migrant housing and integration) would go a long way. But without a wiser, far-reaching multi-national policy, money’s almost irrelevant. The migrants are stuck: either in grossly overcrowded official internment camps on Lampedusa and Lesbos, or in illegal tent metropoles like la Villette and Calais.
La Villette wasn’t the first such cleansing operation in Paris; it won’t be the last. A few hundred of the tent-dwellers simply refused to board the busses. Others, disappointed and frightened, will soon be circling back. Up north, the jungle of Calais, where migrants dream of the white cliffs of Dover, is beginning to sprout again. And down in Greece and Italy, fresh boatloads land every day.
Nice piece of juxtaposition– the photo of the Koons piece is a sharp nail.
Been following the story of the Malian “Spiderman.” I guess that’s what an African immigrant has to do to be accepted, something like the barehanded young man who disarmed the shooter in that waffle place in Nashville, or like the handicapped street person I once read about in a novel.
Thank you for another illuminating (and distressing) P de V. The lives of migrants/refugees just seems unimaginable these days.
Margot, last week I was on the island of Lesvos. Thus the lives become imaginable – but not the state of mind, extremes of courage, madness, fear. On a country road I wanted to ask directions of two youths. If they’d been Greek, they would have been eager to help a stranger. These two gave me a quick, terrified glance and spurted away. Syrians.
The piece by Koons is, well, egregious, to put it mildly.
Thumbs up. Kai, for calling both grotesqueries for what they are. Koons is and remains a grotesque, may his so-called gift be seen for the Trojan horse that it is. And treatment of humans seeking shelter and safety on a globe of plenty for the richissimes and pittance or nothing for the desperate and needy (whether in Paris or elsewhere in France or other none-so-blind-as-those-who-will-not-see locii … such treatment must be seen and called out for the inhumanity that it is.
Kai, I have to admit I can’t stand Jeff Koons, an artist for whom at times Paris seems to have a particular weakness. Am I just a Philistine? Or just not a lover of silliness? His art seems to me to be a certain kind of scam, highlighted by the financial “art juggernaut” behind him. public or private. Good news that Paris is awake and resisting; I only wish its sensitivities extended to where their money might be better spent….
Thanks for the juxtaposition. Your neighbors cheer you on!
A very thought-provoking “confrontation” between Koons’ Hubris, funded by millions of dollars and the dire “straits” of Canal St-Martin.
I wonder how many families can live decently in Erythrea on 3 million dollars?
(I know a bit about Erythrea, I lived in Ethiopia when it was still an Ethiopian province)
Thank you for the post as usual.
Hope all is well?
All is well except that I’m now in the US for a bit. It’s hard to adjust to an increasingly revolting orgy of disdain for truth, science, justice and now the most basic humanity. Moreover, obese is the norm and proud of it. I am still a patriot, don’t get me wrong, but where is that country?
I understand you perfectly. Where is that country we all love? Frightening, really. The man is attacking America’s only friends and allies. How long will they “take” the abuse? I thought they would kick him out of G7, turning it into a “temporary” G6, but, no… It is very sad.
Try to enjoy home nonetheless. How long will you be there?
(I will be flying to Paris on the 30th, YES!)
(Even if things are changing there too)
Take care my dear.