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Will Richard Serra’s Forgotten Paris Sculpture Finally See the Light of Day?

When I broke the story about the whereabouts of Richard Serra’s controversial sculpture “Clara-Clara” for Hyperallergic last week, I hoped that it would spur action by the City of Paris, which owns the work. It appears that it has. The office of Carine Roland, the deputy mayor of Paris in charge of culture, told the French publication Le Monde they were looking into “three possibilities in the historic heart of Paris” for “Clara-Clara.” It is a welcome and exciting update since last week, when I asked the City of Paris about the status of the sculpture and was told they were “actively working on its relocation.” A spokesperson for the City declined to provide details about Le Monde’s report but promised an update soon.

I am one of few people who has seen “Clara-Clara” since it was removed from the Tuileries Gardens in 2009 and put into storage in the industrial outskirts of Paris. I was shown the sculpture on a tour I was given at the Fonds Municipaux d’Art Contemporain (FMAC) in Ivry-sur-Seine, through my research at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) where I’m now an adjunct professor of Architecture. Art, particularly works commissioned for public spaces, should be appreciated by the public. Of course, Mayor Anne Hidalgo and the current government of Paris inherited this work, which was acquired in 1985, but they have a responsibility as its steward to take it out from the back lot of FMAC, restore it, weld it back together, and re-install it in a worthy location.

I was not the only person hoping for this potential outcome. Aurélien Véron, a councilman for the City of Paris and spokesperson for Groupe Changer Paris, a conglomeration of Republicans, centrists, and independents, took to X to inquire about where “Clara-Clara” was prior to the publication of my article. “Lost, stolen, hijacked?” he posted, adding, “Why not let Parisians benefit from it? It would be a beautiful tribute to the artist.”

In a phone conversation with me this morning, April 9, Véron told me he was disappointed that the City of Paris did not acknowledge Serra’s death or respond to his request for information.

“Initially I was a bit shocked by the fact that the City of Paris didn’t mention the death of Richard Serra while detaining a major artwork of a major artist, artwork that disappeared 15 years ago,” he said. “Nobody knows where it is, nobody answered at City Hall.”

Véron added that he belongs to the same cultural commission in Paris City Council that is led by Carine Roland, “but we don’t exchange at all. There’s no bilateral exchange.”

The councilman has a few ideas of where “Clara-Clara” could be re-installed. Paris’s third largest park, Parc de la Villette in the northeast corner of Paris, is no stranger to modern art. Designed by French architect Bernard Tschumi, who served as Dean of Columbia University’s GSAPP from 1988 to 2003, the 137-acre park’s vast lawns are dotted with contemporary art installations and cultural venues. “Such an artwork would be consistent with the spirit of La Villette and the new philharmonic by Jean Nouvel,” Véron said.

Another potential spot for “Clara-Clara” could be in front of the Chateau de Vincennes, the magnificent 14th-century castle in the city’s east, or the business district La Défense, as a new counterpoint to Paris’s historical axis. Véron says the sculpture could be re-aligned to the historical axis and visitors “could see the Tuileries and the Louvre in the perspective of ‘Clara-Clara.’” 

Perhaps most centrally, the sculpture could go in the plaza in front of the Centre Pompidou, during the upcoming five-year renovation of the museum. “It could land there next year, for one or two years to let visitors, tourists, and people from Paris, turn around it, and walk along on this big plaza that will be empty because of the closure of the museum,” Véron said.

[‘Clara-Clara’] is a huge, massive, important work that had two great stages in life — one in the Tuileries Gardens 15 years ago, and one with the Grand Palais with Monumenta,” Véron stressed. “It should not have disappeared that way.”

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