The latest spectacular plan in the Parisian tradition of pioneering exhibitions and grand municipal projects comes to fruition next month when the city's most famous thoroughfare forms the backdrop for a unique sculpture exhibition.
Work began yesterday to install more than 50 works of 20th-century sculpture, taken mostly from Paris sites and collections, on a kilometre-long stretch of the Champs Elysees between the Place de la Concorde and the Rond Point, where six avenues converge.
The exhibition was supposed to have been kept a secret. Paris commuters, the city council had hoped, would emerge from the Concorde and Champs Elysees metro stations one morning to be surprised and delighted by the sight before them.
But the secret was broken last weekend by a discreet announcement in the Figaro newspaper's colour magazine, which said that Parisians in the know were talking of nothing else and the secret would out.
Everyone wanted to know, the magazine said, how on earth a four-ton Picasso was going to be moved to a central Paris pavement, and how a trick of lighting would make the obelisk on the Place de la Concorde appear in the middle of a work by Yves Klein.
A spokesman for Paris town hall yesterday confirmed that musings of this kind were not mere wishful thinking or premature April foolishness. The exhibition is to open on 11 April and last two months.
The works are to be arranged in chronological order and are presented as landmarks in the sculpture of this century. As well as the Picasso and the Klein, the exhibition will include three Rodins, a Miro, a Giacometti and a Leger. The British sculptors Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Helen Chadwick will also be represented.
One purpose of the exhibition is to celebrate the completion of a five- year project to restore the Champs Elysees as the promenade that its 17th- century architect intended. The road has been narrowed, the pavements widened - by more than 60 feet - and a second line of plane trees planted to give its lower reaches a more park-like feel.
The sculpture exhibition is intended not only to show off some of the most distinguished pieces of modern sculpture, but also to demonstrate that the Champs Elysees is once more for strolling.