Installing a sculpture in a public area

Chana Orloff (1888 -1968) is a well-known artist, who lived her whole life between France and Israël. In the 2000’s, her descendants decided to offer to the city hall of Paris a bronze print of one of her art pieces : Mon fils marin (My son sailor), and in 2008, the local administration of the 14th arrondissement of Paris agreed to install this sculpture not far from the artist’s former studio. However, because of logistics and administrative problems, it was only installed in November 2018, which means 10 years after the original decision! But why is it so difficult to transport and install a medium-size piece like this from its art-warehouse until a street of Paris?

Mon fils marin, Chana Orloff

                First step: finding a sculpture, finding a place

                You may want to install a sculpture in your city for different reasons. Sometimes, one art piece is located on the way of your future tramway, and you have to reinstall it as soon as possible. Sometimes, an artist, or its descendants, make you a gift, which can be poisoned if it is a big one (cf The Jeff Koons issue, Or, you may just want to introduce art in the everyday life of the city inhabitants, and you choose one of the sculpture sleeping in the art storage centres of the city, which are in fact located outside of the city.

                Some sculptures are tall, some of them are heavy: you will need to study the floor’s structure to make sure that you can put something at this place. In cities like Paris, whose ground was diggen by the metro, the catacombs, the old quarries, it can be a real problem, and you always have surprises when you begin to dig. The place you choose should be easily accessible by a van or by a truck, depending on the size of your art piece, but also visible, to allow the pedestrians to enjoy it (your “final consumer” in this case), and sometimes symbolic, if you want to commemorate an historic episode or pay homage to a local artist.

Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers (the architects of the Centre Pompidou in Paris), Xavier Veilhan

Second step: the administrative labyrinth

You want to install your sculpture in this beautiful park near to the Seine, but are you sure that you are allowed to? The information flow is crucial in this kind of project involving a lot of different persons, and you have to ask for the authorizations in the proper order: does the arrondissement’s mayor agree with you?  The others political representatives? What is the opinion of the artist? Are the inhabitants of the neighbourhood in favour of the project?

The crucial part of all of this is to obtain the building permit. It can take months, and be a failure for plenty of reasons. If there is a protected monument near to the place, if the simulation of the art piece in its future environment does not convince the city’s architect, if you forgot to sign one of the 24 pages of the formula, you can restart everything from the beginning.

During this time, you can start preparing the operational part, and hiring the company which will install the sculpture. The art transportation market is dominated by a few enterprises (cf, and as it is a public contract, you have to organize a bid solicitation to select the best offer – the price is usually the decisive factor.

Some parts of this process are incompressible. The objective is to organize the information flow in order to waste a minimum of resources if the project is stopped, but also to anticipate the futures steps to be efficient.
Les Rochers dans le Ciel, Didier Marcel

Third step: the operational part

Once everything is settled, you will have to manage different actors at the same time to assemble three pieces together: the floor, the pedestal and the sculpture. The floor can be prepared in advance, but you can’t let a hole in the sidewalk for a long time: technicians of the green spaces department should be here in advance and stay until the end. Besides, the climate factor can prevent you from digging and building, in winter when the floor is frozen, or if it is raining continuously during days or weeks.  However, the time limit of your construction authorization can’t be modified, which forces you to select the safest time window at your disposal.

Once this issue fixed, the art transportation company you hired must bring the statue at the right place at the right time, and so must the pedestal maker (most of the time an independent craftsman). The repartition of the tasks is crucial and must be defined before the D-Day, to know who will be in charge of assembling the pedestal with the ground, joining the sculpture and the pedestal, bringing the tools, etc.

Of course, all the signalization panels have to be present on the site during the operation, as well as the construction authorizations, especially if your project requires to stop or deviate the circulation of cars and passers-by.

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "les rochers dans le ciel"
Les Poings d’eau, Pascale Marthine Tayou

Fourth step: the inauguration cocktail

                This kind of project isn’t over when the sculpture is standing on the right place, but only after some mundanities and speeches gathering representatives, locals, artists and administrative employees. Booking a place, sending invitations, providing some petits fours, wine and champagne, those are the last tasks you will have to perform is order to accomplish your mission until the end!

                Installing a sculpture in a public area is always a tailored process, which relies on several factors: the size, shape and signification of your art piece, as well as the administrative, political and geographical environment in which you operate. Organizing the information flows and material can be optimized in a certain way but it’s a one-shot operation where any delay or mistake postpone the installation to the next year – a loss of time and money for the community.  This explains why it took ten years to install Mon fils marin in the Place des Droits de l’Enfant in Paris – if you go there for tourism, go take a look at it!

Grand Stabile Rouge, Alexander Calder

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