Paris has always had an uneasy relationship with new additions to the city. People hated the Eiffel Tower when it was first built. The Tour Montparnasse is nicknamed the box the Eiffel Tower came in. And who could forget the scandal that accompanied the construction of the Louvre pyramid? People still call it the scar on the face of Paris. However, just across the street from the Louvre, there’s another recent addition to the city that sparked similar outrage when it first appeared. I’m talking, of course, about Les Deux Plateaux, an art installation by Daniel Buren that has proved controversial for over three decades.
Les Deux Plateaux was first installed in 1986, replacing a dingy parking lot. From the reaction the artwork received, you would have thought that Parisians preferred the parking lot. The project was widely derided when it was first announced, and then nearly cancelled altogether by successive governments. When it was finally unveiled, people viewed the 260 black and white striped columns as high concept art run amok. However, over the years it has become a favourite spot for both locals and visitors alike. On most days, children play among the columns while Instagram photographers aim for the perfect symmetrical shot.
This isn’t to say that Les Deux Plateaux isn’t still without controversy. The original design included running waters beneath the metal grates that line the ground, while floodlights were meant to illuminate the columns from below. The installation was supposed to be both seen and heard, but not anymore. Today, the waters have stopped and the floodlights have burnt out. Several governments have pledged to restore the artwork to its original state, but so far no plans have actually materialized, much to the dismay of the artist. Buren has actually publicly stated his unhappiness at the state of his artwork, and has even suggested that it be dismantled altogether.
Thankfully, this drastic action has yet to be undertaken. However, it is worth noting that under French law, artists have the right to defend the intentions of their works. This means that Buren could legally demand that this now infamous landmark be removed. Therefore, the next time you are in Paris, be sure to pay a visit. You never know. It could be gone the next time you pass through town.
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Les Deux Plateaux is located in the Palais Royal in the first arrondissement of Paris. Combine this visit with a photo op at the Louvre pyramid across the street to check off two controversial sites in one go.
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Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.