Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Public Art from 1394 to 2009

Metz's cathedral, Saint-Etienne de Metz, stands at the highest point of the old city. The site has supported religious buildings from at least the 4th Century. The current Gothic structure dates mostly from the 13th to the 16th Centuries. Its exterior walls glow with golden stone, and its flying buttresses make possible a luminous interior lit by the largest expanse of stained glass in France.

The cathedral's facade, although in the Gothic style, actually dates from the early 20th Century. It replaced a neoclassical facade, built in 1764, intended to harmonize the cathedral, at least at street level, with the nearby buildings of the Place des Armes and the bishop's palace. The side of the cathedral along the place was flanked by a low arcaded gallery. The 18th Century facade can be understood as part of an effort to create a cohesive, monumental district, especially as part of a long-standing competition with nearby city of Nancy. But to modern eyes, the "harmonious" facade is awkward and jarring, especially with the flanking arcade gone.

The west front's large rose window, built in 1394 by Hermann de Munster stands opposite the more color saturated windows of the choir, all the way at the east end of the cathedral. The newest windows feature designs by Marc Chagall on Old Testament themes.

The current city hall, the Hotel de Ville, was completed in 1788. Its relatively austere neoclassical facade must have seemed refreshingly modern at the time. The building currently sports a piece of art both whimsical and grand--"Five Ellipses" by the contemporary artist Felice Varini . This installation, anticipating the opening in mid-2010 of Metz's Pompidou Center, consists of stripes painted on the Hotel de Ville and other nearby buildings that create the illusion of enormous black ellipses hanging in space. Moving elsewhere in the square shows how the parts are created. And it's funny to see from side streets bits of the ellipses on buildings out of context.

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