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The Buren columns at Palais Royal restored at last!
Inauguration Friday 8th January 2010

After a mini-scandal two years ago, and slightly later than initially programmed (the whole thing was supposed to be finished for December 2009) Daniel Buren‘s iconic and controversial installation at Palais Royal (you know, the stripy columns thing) will be inaugurated this week after a long – and expensive – renovation project.

photos : JasonW

For as long as I have been visiting Paris and living here (over 20 years), I have regularly visited the intriguing Buren columns at Palais Royal. Placed in what used to be a car park, the 3,000m² listed courtyard was transformed in 1986 with ‘modern’ installation art made up of 260 different columns, two streams and special coloured lighting at night. It cost 1.5 million euros at the time and immediately attracted controversy; many thought it was more of an expensive eyesore than art, and the city mayor at the time (a certain Jacques Chirac) even had work on it halted at one point. Only a lawsuit by Buren himself forced the city to complete it.

Leaving these difficult beginnings aside, I must admit that this piece of art has always left me a little perplexed. Ugly or beautiful? Inspired investment or a waste of public money? My overriding memory is that – very quickly – it started to fall apart. The columns started breaking up, the lights no longer worked, then the water stopped flowing. Citing “State vandalism’, Buren finally lost his rag in 2007, requesting in no uncertain terms that the State assume its responsibilities and have the work restored… or have it removed. This would have been rather embarrassing for them, and the Ministry of Culture finally caved. In 2008, barriers designed by Buren himself (as a ‘temporary installation’, no less) were erected, with coloured plexiglas windows allowing the public to watch the restoration work being carried out (which explains why our photos look like they were taken through a rainbow).

Amazingly, restoration has cost nearly three times more than the original price of installation: 4 millions euros! The shiny new columns will be inaugurated on Friday 8th January 2010 by the current Minister of Culture, Frédéric Mitterrand.

So is this the end of the controversy, or a new beginning? Time will tell… In any case, finally seeing the piece as it was intended, with its two streams and coloured lights should delight visitors (and their children) for a few more years to come.

Les Deux Plateaux, Daniel Buren’s installation dating from 1986, and restored in 2010 can be seen at Palais Royal here. Entrance is free. Make sure you see it during the day and after nightfall for two very different views.