THE BROADER PICTURE / Figures of fun

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The Independent Culture
THE FRENCH always manage to do these things better than we do. Walking down the Champs-Elysees this Christmas, between the Rond Point and the Concorde, pedestrians will have encountered the fat, bronze, people-friendly statues of the Colombian sculptor Fernando Botero. Like enormous chocolate toys, they stand in the tree-lined avenue to the delight of children who stare in wonder at the stolid 'Trojan' horse and the laughing cat, but seem naturally drawn, in particular, to the curvaceous female nudes, leaping on the back of the cheerful 'Venus' who lolls on her generous stomach, one foot in the air like a Fifties teenager, and caressing the satisfying orb of her buttocks.

There are 31 sculptures in all; the city paid for the installation, the lighting and the guards that protect them and Didier Imbert, Botero's dealer, says he's put in FFr10m of his own money, which he expects to recoup from the sales of T-shirts, posters, postcards and badges. The sculptures are part of a Botero season in Paris (his paintings are on show at the Grand Palais), but they are also part of the 'Mission de Champs Elysees'), the plan by the city of Paris to restore its rather tacky, traffic-ridden but most famous thoroughfare to its former glory.

You can only think how marvellous Botero's figures would look in Hyde Park, for a season at the Serpentine. Not surprisingly, the artist Beryl Cook cites him, along with Stanley Spencer, as one of her influences and, in fact, London already boasts one of his fat ladies. In Broadgate, probably the most hi-tech of London's City squares, with its glass and metal facades on three sides and the almost Toytown prettiness of Liverpool Street's glass roofs on the fourth, there reclines a Botero bronze nude of joyously large proportions. If his French statues stand between two and four metres, she must be more than twice that size, propped up on one elbow in all her sumptuous rotundity, defying the hard-edged architecture around her. She is known - naturally - as the 'Broadgate Venus'.-

(Photographs omitted)