la défense
Naissance d'une collection, film avec Michel Moritz, HD, 10'

Paris La Défense Art Collection: 69 works of art to showcase

The context

Since the design of the district in the 1960s, artists, architects and engineers have been mingling at La Défense. 

Monuments such as the Grande Arche or the Cnit have showcased works of art from the main art movements of the 20th century: surrealism, abstraction, kinetic art, conceptual art, new realism….

These were ordered then acquired in a context of architectural and cultural effervescence led by such leading figures as Jean Millier (President of the Etablissement Public d’Aménagement de La Défense – the public development authority – from 1969 to 1977, President of the George Pompidou Centre from 1877 to 1980), Germain Viatte (curator at the National Museum of Modern Art from 1875 to 1984) and Michel Moritz (architect in charge of installing the works of art).

Calder’s The Red Spider, Miró’s Personnages Fantastiques, Takis’s Light Signals, Yaacov Agam’s Monumental Fountain, César’s Thumb, Bernar Venet’s Indeterminate Lines, Richard Serra’s Slat, Anthony Caro’s After Olympia… These huge works of art, on a par with the scale of the site, both provide structure to the public spaces and serve as points of reference for all users and visitors. 

Defacto, the public institution in charge of the management of the business district, is currently developing the project Paris La Défense Art Collection in order to showcase the 69 works of art – both discreet and imposing – that pepper the public space. The aim is to improve the preservation and presentation of this extraordinary artistic heritage and to give a new lease of life to this unique open air art collection.

The project

The Frenak+Julien team of architects, winner of the competition launched by Defacto, was asked to oversee the showcase. Defacto wishes to promote this unique and little known cultural heritage by making it more accessible, visible and open to all. This project is a testimony to Defacto’s wish to make the business district a real cultural destination for the Grand Paris.

The collection is made up of very diverse works of art but what makes it so unique and powerful is that it is the result of a process of specifically creating art for public spaces, or even art as public space. It was created largely by commissioning artists to create these works around a specific location. The collection mixes works and settings, thereby blurring the boundaries between genres and resisting pigeon-holing into traditional museum categories. The intrinsic link between the works and town planning in La Défense makes up the foundation of a project for an art collection driven by three objectives: 

     - Identifying the unusual and structural nature of these works: fountains, basins, handrails, walls, chimneys, stairs… The works of art at La Défense are for many an essential part of the urban landscape just like its buildings,
     - Highlighting how some of these works belong to the major modern and contemporary art movements of the 20th century,
     - Increasing the readability of the works of art in the huge space offered by La Défense and give more weight to their presence by placing major works in its centre: Barrias’s La Défense de Paris, the historic sculpture that gave its name to the business district and Anthony Caro’s After Olympia, one of more recent acquisitions. 

Three major initiatives have underlined this project:

- The creation of routes: the first one on the main stretch, the others in adjacent quarters. These ‘branching’ routes would all start on the main stretch and wind into the different quarters. Their start is signalled by a number of works of art from the major route, and they are defined according to the quarter they go through. In situ, a signage system will define the routes and mark the pieces from the collection. The plates will be planted in the ground, near each piece. These slabs of white marble will have the titles of the works, their situations, authors, and an arrow-based design to link them to one another etched in black and in three languages (English, French and Chinese). 

- Nocturnal displays: the works will be lit according to the original vision of the artist or lit for the first time. The types of lighting will reveal pieces that were previously invisible at night and will transform the routes visible during the daytime. 

- Restoration: a restoration and preventive conservation programme is being developed to improve the global management of the works. Defacto has given the task of overseeing this programme to qualified Heritage restorers. 

Finally, the cultural policy necessary for the revival of this collection relies in part on the promotion of the artistic archives fund, the creation of platforms, the creation of a dedicated website and the consideration of new artistic commissions.