On Thursday evening in La Défense, the business district located northwest of Paris, a group of children are reclining and chatting on a huge green bench: a public artwork, aptly titled 'Banc Public', by Lilian Bourgeat. Further along the esplanade, couples and families are ambling through the bucolic, labyrinthine installation by Fanny Bouyagui composed of 4,000 sunflowers blowing in the breeze.
Nearby, teenagers are chasing each other through whitened trees covered in a ghostly veil of slaked lime – an installation by Vincent Lamouroux that critiques the artificiality of the urban landscape. Long after executives working in La Défense's gleaming high rises have left for the day, residents from the area's social housing estate are hanging out in 'Les Extatiques' – an exhibition path of artworks installed until October.
Curated by Fabrice Bousteau, editor of Beaux Arts Magazine in France, the outdoor exhibition was commissioned by the Hauts-de-Seine department to mark the sixtieth anniversary of La Défense. The initiative brings together works by nine international artists and is aimed to infuse new energy into the car-free business district to help it feel more liveable.
'I sought, in collaboration with the artists by inviting them to visit La Défense, to imagine a path of artistic surprises that integrates into the architecture and environment,' Bousteau tells DAMNº. 'My starting point was to encourage the desire for a stroll [...] and create the extraordinary with the ordinary. It's crazy how the bees have appropriated the labyrinth, eagerly tasting the sunflowers in order to go and nourish the numerous beehives that exist on the rooftops of the towers.'
La Défense has a longstanding relationship to art. Sculptures by dozens of artists, such as Miró, Calder and César, punctuate the business district best known for its Grande Arche – a monumental white arch that overlooks the Arc de Triomphe. One of La Défense's most joyful artworks is 'Bassin' (1988) by Takis – 49 multi-coloured heads on steel sticks standing in the water that flash randomly.
This summer, works in 'Les Extatiques' add an engaging and interactive dimension. For instance, visitors can lie down on the floor of Leandro Erlich's 'Inner City – Paris/Buenos Aires', a site-specific structure whose floor and three walls are covered with images of the facades of buildings in Buenos Aires. The images happen to recall the style of Haussmannien buildings in Paris. 'It gives the feeling that, in the middle of La Défense's towers, a sort of small Gaulois village remains,' Bousteau says.