Street art goes green

It’s become a frequent motif in contemporary art: using modern materials to draw our attention to nature. One recent example is the Gates Christo installed in Central Park in February 2005 (see picture below). We’ve also grown accustomed to the contrast of modern objects placed in ancient structures. Here too, Christo was a pioneer, with his Pont Neuf installation of 1985 ; Jeff Koons did it more recently in Versailles.
Well this weekend, one street art experiment will try just the reverse: this time, it’s bringing an air of nature to a modern construction. The Champs Elysees are a symbol of modernity par excellence… And for two days, they will be decked in green. A daring twist on a Paris icon. Who even remembers the Champs Elysees’ previous names (they were first called the “Grand Cours”, then the “Tuileries Palace avenue”)? Who can recall the elm trees and long stretches of grass that covered it way back when? Who remembers the serene, pastoral face of that world famous road, back in the early 20th century?
Nobody does – we don’t, you don’t, maybe not even Gad Weil, the man behind this new project, and his partner Laurence Medioni. Weil says he is a fan of great “secular communions”, and that he wants to use the Champs Elysees to shake up Parisians – and city dwellers everywhere. His aim is to raise awareness on nature and biodiversity, and the threat they are under. The event begins Saturday May 22nd, which is Biodiversity Day all over the world.
The creators’ vision
The most beautiful avenue in the world will go 100% green for three days. If this seems too abstract, too idealistic, here’s a clearer idea of what visitors and passersby will see, between Saturday evening and Tuesday morning:
Starting at 8pm Saturday evening, 8.000 plots of 1.2 square meters each will be installed along the Champs Elysees from the Champs Elysees roundabout all the way to Concorde square. Each plot will be made up of 150 species of trees and plants. This totals up to a bewildering diversity – 150.000 young plants, 11.000 tillers and 650 trees, 4 to 7 meters high. There will be Constantinople black-woods, Virginia tulip poplars, Lebanese cedars, African tamarix… For a peek into the species represented, take a look here. Debates (dubbed “agoras”) will also be organized along the avenue and in its landmarks – at the Atala Hotel, the Fouquets brasserie, and the Grand Palais museum among others – on a number of themes, ranging from the universal (“Our food in 2020”) to the downright bohemian (“Sustainable clothing”). You can register online here.
The project has raised controversy due to its cost (4.2 million euros, mostly raised through private sponsorships) and unusual business model (visitors can become “sowers”, i.e. support the event by purchasing the plants, trees, or parcels on show). Organizers expect 1 million visitors, and Gad Weil is hoping to make this a global operation and replicate it in it New York City in 2011.
We’ll bet Parisians will come out in force for this event. This is a city were ecology and thinking green are de rigueur: environmentalist Yann Arthus-Bertrand and his film Home enjoy a loyal following and local prestige, green spaces are a priority in the urbanism projects for “Greater Paris”, and the Velib’s (public bicycles) are a city must. Gad Weil is offering Parisians a chance to learn (or review) their tree names and plant vocabulary. We’ve talked the talk – it’s time to walk the walk 🙂 !
PS: on a practical note, be prepared for some heavy traffic this weekend along the Right Bank and the Rivoli-Concorde axis.
PPS: here’s a look back at Christo’s yellow polyester installation at the Pont Neuf in 1985…
… His Central Park Gates of February 2005, in saffron-colored vinyl.
… And Jeff Koons’ vision of Versailles, in early 2009.


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