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‘Is it sperm or lollipops?’ Parisians don’t seem to want new Jeff Koons sculpture

A Jeff Koons sculpture given to Paris by the US artist himself in homage to the victims of the 2015 jihadist terror attacks is set to be installed in the city in the next few days. But no one in Paris appears to want it.

'Is it sperm or lollipops?' Parisians don't seem to want new Jeff Koons sculpture
Jeff Koons with "Bouquet of Tulips". Photo: AFP
The French capital is a city which has a history of appreciating avant-garde art. 
 
But apparently, “Bouquet of Tulips” by Jeff Koons, made of 33 tons of bronze and aluminium and standing 12-metres-high, hasn't quite hit the mark for Parisians. 
 
The work, said to represent a huge hand, holding eleven colorful tulips, is set to be installed in Paris in between hip Parisian gallery Palais de Tokyo and the city's modern art museum in the upmarket 16th arrondissement in the next few days. 
 
But as the artwork gets set to take up residence in one of the poshest neighbourhoods in town, it's seems unlikely the city will be welcoming the monumental sculpture with open arms. 
 
“It's a kind of weird balloon … I do not find it very pretty,” one person told Europe 1 summing up the ambivalence towards it.
 
An illustration of the sculpture.
 
Another person questioned what exactly the artwork was meant to represent. 
 
“What is it? Giant lollipops? Sperm?” a local resident asked. 
 
One Parisian gallery owner Stéphane Corréard has even set up a petition to stop the project going ahead. 
 
“Today, an artist like Jeff Koons is a multinational corporation. Not art-house at all. Here, we are in a place of art,” he said. 
 
“The Palais de Tokyo is dedicated to young artists, emerging art, to the French scene,” he added. “To install this kind of work in this kind of place is to give an absolutely gigantic advertising opportunity in exchange for nothing.”
 
The sculpture cost some €3 million ($3.2 million) to make and received financing from private donors in the United States and France.
 
Koons said it was designed as an offering in memory of the victims and as a symbol of optimism, in an effort to help Paris overcome the tragedy that struck the French capital on November 13 last year.
   
In a string of coordinated attacks by Islamic State group jihadists that shocked the world, 130 people were killed that day.
   
Koons, who is known for toying with objects from popular culture, said the hand holding the tulips in his massive sculpture is intended to mimic the Statue of Liberty grasping its torch.
 
At least the Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo was positive about the sculpture.
 
“The fact that this great artist has decided to offer to the city of Paris… a monumental artwork is a symbol of generosity and sharing, and shows our capital's ties with the United States are unbreakable,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said when the gift was announced in 2016.

HISTORY

‘Lost’ manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

A book by one of France's most celebrated and controversial literary figures arrives in bookstores this week, 78 years after the manuscript disappeared

'Lost' manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

It is a rare thing when the story of a book’s publication is even more mysterious than the plot of the novel itself.

But that might be said of Guerre (War) by one of France’s most celebrated and controversial literary figures, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, which arrives in bookstores on Thursday, some 78 years after its manuscript disappeared.

Celine’s reputation has somehow survived the fact that he was one of France’s most eager collaborators with the Nazis.

Already a superstar thanks to his debut novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932), Celine became one of the most ardent anti-Semitic propagandists even before France’s occupation.

In June 1944, with the Allies advancing on Paris, the writer abandoned a pile of his manuscripts in his Montmartre apartment.

Celine feared rough treatment from authorities in liberated France, having spent the war carousing with the Gestapo, and giving up Jews and foreigners to the Nazi regime and publishing racist pamphlets about Jewish world conspiracies.

For decades, no one knew what happened to his papers, and he accused resistance fighters of burning them. But at some point in the 2000s, they ended up with retired journalist Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, who passed them – completely out of the blue – to Celine’s heirs last summer.

‘A miracle’
Despite the author’s history, reviews of the 150-page novel, published by Gallimard, have been unanimous in their praise.

“The end of a mystery, the discovery of a great text,” writes Le Point; a “miracle,” says Le Monde; “breathtaking,” gushes Journal du Dimanche.

Gallimard has yet to say whether the novel will be translated.

Like much of Celine’s work, Guerre is deeply autobiographical, recounting his experiences during World War I.

It opens with 20-year-old Brigadier Ferdinand finding himself miraculously alive after waking up on a Belgian battlefield, follows his treatment and hasty departure for England – all based on Celine’s real experiences.

His time across the Channel is the subject of another newly discovered novel, Londres (London), to be published this autumn.

If French reviewers seem reluctant to focus on Celine’s rampant World War II anti-Semitism, it is partly because his early writings (Guerre is thought to date from 1934) show little sign of it.

Journey to the End of the Night was a hit among progressives for its anti-war message, as well as a raw, slang-filled style that stuck two fingers up at bourgeois sensibilities.

Celine’s attitude to the Jews only revealed itself in 1937 with the publication of a pamphlet, Trifles for a Massacre, which set him on a new path of racial hatred and conspiracy-mongering.

He never back-tracked. After the war, he launched a campaign of Holocaust-denial and sought to muddy the waters around his own war-time exploits – allowing him to worm his way back into France without repercussions.

‘Divine surprise’
Many in the French literary scene seem keen to separate early and late Celine.

“These manuscripts come at the right time – they are a divine surprise – for Celine to become a writer again: the one who matters, from 1932 to 1936,” literary historian Philippe Roussin told AFP.

Other critics say the early Celine was just hiding his true feelings.

They highlight a quote that may explain the gap between his progressive novels and reactionary feelings: “Knowing what the reader wants, following fashions like a shopgirl, is the job of any writer who is very financially constrained,” Celine wrote to a friend.

Despite his descent into Nazism, he was one of the great chroniclers of the trauma of World War I and the malaise of the inter-war years.

An exhibition about the discovery of the manuscripts opens on Thursday at the Gallimard Gallery and includes the original, hand-written sheets of Guerre.

They end with a line that is typical of Celine: “I caught the war in my head. It is locked in my head.”

In the final years before his death in 1961, Celine endlessly bemoaned the loss of his manuscripts.

The exhibition has a quote from him on the wall: “They burned them, almost three manuscripts, the pest-purging vigilantes!”

This was one occasion – not the only one – where he was proved wrong.

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