Street Life: Paris: City where they think art grows on trees

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The Independent Online
SOMEONE HAS suspended giant deckchairs on every lamppost on the Champs-Elysees - or so it seems.

The thousands of tourists and handful of Parisians passing along the high street of the world pay no attention. They assume, reasonably enough, that the candy-striped banners extending all the way from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe are the bunting for yet another state visit.

Wrong. The banners form the largest "sculpture" ever exhibited in Paris, or most likely anywhere in the world - a work of art a mile long and an avenue wide; a work of art so big no one notices it is there.

"Is that what they are?" said an elegantly dressed silver-haired woman yesterday. "I imagined they were the flag of somewhere or another in Africa, but I had no idea which country it might be."

The immense rainbow of banners is one of the works in an ambitious, moving, witty, subversive, baffling and infuriating exhibition by 52 artists - Les Champs de la Sculpture - which occupies the lower, leafier part of the Champs-Elysees until mid-November.

The creator of the banners, French artist Daniel Buren, is best known for the gigantic liquorice allsorts that have dignified/disfigured the beautiful courtyard of the Palais Royal in Paris for the past 15 years. He is not, he insists, a painter or sculptor, but a "revealer of places and situations"; the banners on the Champs-Elysees are not a work of art but a "visual tool" allowing people to see the world's most famous avenue in a new way.

The problem is that the world's most famous avenue generates such a density of car fumes that it is difficult to see the majestic sweep and rainbow shades of Mr Buren's banners.

The rest of the show is harder to miss. Entering the avenue from the Concorde end you pass between two enormous, Soviet-style portraits, showing a bored-looking man and an ordinary-looking woman. Who are they? They are a bored-looking man and ordinary-looking woman photographed last year on the Champs-Elysees and given two months of anonymous celebrity by the Bosnian artist Braco Dimitrijevic, who specialises in celebrating the false and commemorating the ordinary.

A little further along, you come across a papier mache cow up a tree. This work is called, helpfully, "Cow up a tree". It is one of many similar works by the Gary Larson-ish Australian artist John Kelly. The treed cow celebrates two events - the use of papier mache cows to disguise Australian weaponry from the air during the 1939-45 war and the vigorous floods in Melbourne in 1993, which left several cows marooned in trees.

According to Yves Michaud, philosophy professor and art critic, there is a common strand in the exhibition. Sculpture traditionally produced monuments to the powerful and famous, but they now saturate every other form of media and do not need sculptures any more, so modern sculpture produces subversive monuments to the ordinary.

Even Mr Buren's flags fit the picture - if anyone can be bothered to look at them. They represent the rainbow colours of the crowd, seizing street lamps usually employed to feed the vanity of heads of state.