Growing up in Paris, one of my favourite spot in the city was la Fontaine des Automates near Le Centre Pompidou. I mean, what’s not to love about the whimsical public fountain when you are a kid? It’s colourful and has animated water sprays so it’s basically the best thing ever!! La Fontaine des Automates is also known as the Stravinsky Fountain because it is located Place Stravinsky and represents the work of the composer. It was built in 1983 as part of a larger sculptural program by the city of Paris which brought seven contemporary fountains to different locations in Paris and was designed by Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely and his wife Niki de Saint Phalle, a French sculptor, painter, and film maker.
Part of the idea behind the Parisian public art project was to re-animate pedestrian streets and squares with works of art. The same concept is being developed in Washington D.C. through a collaborative effort between the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District, the D.C. Office of Planning and other agencies. Coincidentally, the New York Avenue Scultpure Project will also feature sculptures by Niki de Saint Phalle whose bold statues will once again bring life and colour to a drab urban area, in this case New York Avenue between 13th and 9th Street, NW.
Niki’s statues will be officially dedicated on April 28 and include Nana on a Dolphin (pictured at the top), which recently graced the Missouri Botanical Garden with its presence. Mayor Fenty describes this new venture as a “wonderful testament to the contribution of women in the arts. And it is. But I also see it as another example of the strong impact the French have had on the visual identity of Washington, D.C. From L’Enfant to Niki, Washington is clinging to its nickname of Paris on the Potomac and you won’t hear this French Ex-Pat complain! On the downside, Niki de Saint Phalle’s sculptures will only be the first in a series of rotating installations and will eventually be replaced by works of other women sculptors. Oh well… we’ll always have l’Enfant.