I’m travelling in north-west France and find myself in Nantes. The town straddles the Loire river. I’ve heard it’s a cool gig. Good food. Calm. I stroll around and find myself in the Place du Bouffay. A bronze figure on – well, not entirely on – a plinth catches my eye. A dude in a suit and tie is defying gravity. One foot is dangling mid-air. How the work disturbs me visually is offset by how it amuses me. It is simple but wholly different.
The Place du Bouffay is mid-morning quiet. Rich odours of French cuisine waft out from restaurants preparing for the lunchtime rush. I run my hand over the lace-up shoe of the dangling foot. It is smooth and comforting. Despite the building heat, the bronze is cool to touch.
This clearly runs against the grain of how famous people and their achievements are depicted and commemorated in public places. Who is he? An unconventional mayor from yester-year? A really rich and wacky philanthropist? And most importantly, what is the who and why of portraying him in this way?
Some research. Turns out that I got it all wrong. It is not about the dude and what he did for Nantes. It is about an attitude. The dude is the sculptor himself, Philippe Ramette, who is best known for surreal, gravity defying photos including himself in a black suit. Ramette’s unconventional attitude is captured by this, his “Éloge du pas de côté” (“Eulogy to Sidestepping”) and is embraced by a town that is audacious and makes manifest a strong commitment to culture. This is Big Public Sculpture at its enthralling best. Bravo, Nantes!