Modern meets historic

For the better part of six days, my wife and I called Lyon home during a two week vacation in France. Lyon is beautiful. Gorgeous, really. And if you were dropped into the city blindfolded, you’d know you were in France from the architecture alone. I really wasn’t expecting to see much modern public art while visiting here, but was more than pleasantly surprised by a few sculptures and installations as I wandered around Lyon. These pieces all caught my eye as physical representations of a noticeable modern vibe running through this historic city.

On a stunning afternoon in the sprawling Parc de la Tête d’Or, this installation, “Ensemble Pour la Paix et la Justice” caught my eye. It was commissioned for the G7 meetings in Lyon in 1996.

Ensemble pour la paix et la justice

A couple of blocks away from Place Bellecour and overlooking the Rhône, the Flower Tree sculpture by artist Choi Jeong Hwa adds a beautiful punch of colour.  Representing the idea that nature is everlasting, this piece stands more than 20 feet tall and is one of the more famous pieces of public art in the city.

Flower Tree sculpture

On the banks of the Saône river near the pedestrian bridge across from the Palais de Justice is “The Weight of One Self” by Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset. The men’s faces are identical, making this an interesting piece for reflection. Is the man standing upright saving himself? Is he weighted down by himself? Is the location across from the courthouse important in the narrative of this piece? This was my favourite piece on my explorations of Lyon.

The weight of One Self' by Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset

Near Lyon’s city hall and opera house were a few more interesting modern pieces. First, the fountain, “Le Soleil” at Place Louis Pradel formed a focal point for gathering on the steps or in the cafes that lined the square.

Fountain at Place Louis Pradel

Just opposite that fountain was a statue of a famous poet from Lyon, Louise Labé. In this sculpture she is joined by another poet, Maurice Sève. On a hot afternoon, this piece formed one end of what was in essence an urban skate park.

Statue of Louise Labé

On the other end was “Pyramide de l’Histoire de Lyon” – this piece shows the history of Lyon through a series of small sculptures that are symbols of the city.

Pyramide de l’Histoire de Lyon

Rounding out the pieces around the Opera and adding to the modern juxtaposition of the Opera building compared to the more historic architecture just one block in either direction was “Le Patineur” by César Baldaccini. This piece is also known as “L’Homme du Futur” and weighs in at over five tonnes and looks somewhat Transformer like to me.

Le Patineur by César Baldaccini

So, yes, Lyon was unmistakably (and wonderfully!) of that historic visual/mental model most of us have of France. But it was also visually a city that isn’t letting time pass it by – that transformer like thing wouldn’t have it any other way!


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