Monday 12 March 2012

Not fade away...

It is said that nature abhors a vacuum, but one could also say that cities abhor a blank wall. Rather than leave walls for what they are, such spaces are often filled with a vast trompe l'oeil which transforms them instead into something they seem to be. I am not a fan of these creations, which impressive though they may be tend to veer towards the twee, but I have discovered that they can give interesting results when over time they are absorbed into the fabric of the building.

In the 16th arrondissement, near the Marché de Passy, what must once have been an attempt to recreate the facade of a typical Haussmannian building has instead become something that looks like a Roman ruin. What was supposed to be a vision of life in a quiet square has instead become a representation of death. As the picture has faded, crumbled and cracked, it has come to look like a scene uncovered at an archeological dig, and is today surely far more atmospheric than when the paint was fresh.
Sitting alongside the decaying buildings of the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle, this rotting creation seems completely at home. Added originally to bring a little colour to the Rue Buffon, it has instead taken on the predominating shades of rust and grime in the vicinity, making it look as old as the buildings themselves.

Inside the museum we can see the skeletons of long-dead creatures, but this picture too now looks like the fossil of some primitive life form. It is as if someone has sliced through the building and revealed traces of an ancient petrified forest.

Soon somebody will probably decide that these creations need to be cleaned up, to bring a more vibrant and colourful aspect to the respective quarters. This rebirth though would in fact be a death, as it would remove the organic attachment they have developed to the building on which they have been grafted.

Looking at this accidental art, I can't help wondering if it would be possible - in a similar manner to the current mode for vertical gardens - for architects to commission works of art that would develop and age with a building. It would certainly be more interesting than relying on the artifice of the trompe l'oeil.


PeterParis said...

Actually these "blind" walls are often cleaner today than some 100 years ago, when many of them were covered by publicity. I often regret that these old publicity "paintings" have been covered by plain paint... and they would have beautifully aged.

Adam said...

Funny you should say that - I took a photo of one of these ghost signs this lunchtime. I think this is one of the best surviving examples around Paris (it's in Neuilly), and it's true that they do age nicely!

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