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Monumental Thumb by César Baldaccini, La Défense

Amongst the blur of towering glass skyscrapers, immaculately kept shops and cafes, glossy black cars, people rushing around in suits and everything else one expects to find in a financial district, an 18-ton sculpture of a thumb is bound to stick out – literally.
Leave it to Paris to install a mammoth avant-garde sculpture in the middle of a straightlaced corporate park. Visitors passing through La Défense, Paris' largest business sector, may not be expecting to find oddball displays of art, but that's exactly what this park delivers. Standing over 40 feet tall and weighing more than 18 tons, "Le Pouce," or "The Thumb" was built in 1965 by sculptor César Baldaccini.
Often referred to as the French answer to Andy Warhol, César was well known for his emphasis on resizing and reshaping objects synonymous with modernity. Not unlike Warhol, César's relationship with technology was mutually beneficial, even as it might have seemed antagonistic. Crushing automobiles and other scrap metal or recreating objects of nature with industrial materials were common themes.
Perhaps his most famous work came in the form of 'expansions' of his own hands – his thumb and fingerprints, particularly. Using modern construction methodology, César took a mold of his thumb and created several absurdly enlarged versions of it, which can now be seen in parks and museums around the world. Undoubtedly the most famous of these is this gargantuan expansion in La Défense.
Standing in stark contrast to its polished, corporate surroundings, César's thumb is discolored and ruddy, containing all of the imperfections that natural forms do. Perhaps it was not his intention to provide a counterbalance to the glossy veil of corporate ambition projected by a purpose-built business park, but that's the beauty of art – it does whatever it wants.

La Défense history - The Triumphal Way

At the end of the first World War, plans were made to develop the axis from the Arc de Triomphe at the Etoile to La Défense, an area at the edge of the center of Paris.
Numerous plans were submitted for the Voie Triumphale or Triumphal Way as it was known, most of them with endless rows of impressive skyscrapers in mostly Modernist style. Many of the plans which were submitted in 1930 came from renowned architects like Le Corbusier and Auguste Perret. None of these plans were realized, mainly due to the Great Depression in the 1930s.

La Défense

In 1931 though, the authorities organized a new competition, but the intent was to limit the height of the buildings along the Triumphal Way. Only at the end of the long avenue, at the Défense, were towers allowed. This was recommended by the authorities as towers close to the center would obstruct the view on the Etoile.
Most of the 35 (French) entries in the competition were either classical or modernist style, but again none of the plans were actually realized due to lack of funding. The main focus now moved from the Triumphal way to the Défense area, or La Défense. The name défense originates from the monument 'La Défense de Paris', which was erected at this site in 1883 to commemorate the war of 1870.

A Forest of Towers

In 1951, the Défense site was chosen as an office center. In 1958, development of the area was started by a special agency, the Etablissement Public d'Aménagement de la Défense.
The first plan had 2 rows of skyscrapers of equal height. In 1964, a plan was approved to have 20 office towers of 25 stories each. Little of the development on the Défence was actually built according to this plan, as most companies started to press for taller office towers.
The result is a mix of mostly cheap towers of different heights. The tallest of them, the GAN tower, measured 179 meters (589 ft). The height of several towers, and in particular the GAN tower caused a public outcry as the 'forest of towers' disturbs the view on the Arc de Triomphe as seen from the Etoile. Partly in response to this criticism a new monument was built at the entrance of the Défense as a counterweight for the Arc de Triomphe: The Tête Défense , also known as the Grande Arche de la Défense. (Source: aviewoncities & wikipedia)

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Additional Photos by George Rumpler (Budapestman) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 8900 W: 3 N: 20435] (82620)
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