Weekly musings on the arts and current events.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Beaux Arts

In Lyon, across from the Musée des Beaux Arts, stands this fountain by Frederic Bartholdi. If his name rings a bell, it's because he sculpted the Statue of Liberty. It depicts France as a woman riding a chariot and driving four hard charging horses. They represent the four great rivers that flow through the nation, which are, I think, the Seine, Rhone, Garonne, and Loire, but I'm just a tourist and a wine drinker.

The picture doesn’t do the whole setting justice, for next to it are some outdoor cafes that sprawl out onto the square. The fountain is passionate and alive with its horses galloping amid powerful water sprays, while the people sit leisurely drinking their boissons and reading or chatting, either with each other or on their cell phones.

Since my return to America, I've heard nothing but debate about government budgets. Not only is Washington stalemated, but nearly every state is in crisis. Minnesota just reopened its government after shutting down altogether. Here in California, seventy state parks are going to be closed, leaving them vulnerable to irreversible damages and losses. For it is a sad fact of American life that public art and open spaces are invitations to vandalism: the revenge of the weak upon the society they despise and that despises them.

No one builds fountains like this anymore. Indeed, resources for all civic amenities are drying up, and opportunities to wile away time in a public place, with ease, beauty, and grace, are fast disappearing.

La Fontaine Bartholdi, 1889. Click on the picture for a closer look, and see if you can find where he engraved his name.

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