In your face 9/11 masterpiece outrages French village
By Judi McLeod
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
He’s no reincarnation of Rembrandt and his neighbours just want him to buzz off. But when it comes to flogging artistic expression, Thierry Ehrmann, French businessman cum artiste, is right up there with Andres Serrano, whose ‘masterpiece’ was a photo of a statuette of the Pope immersed in urine.
Ehrmann’s artistic legacy to his corner of the world is a creation called « Abode of Chaos », and it depicts not the current state of his mind but a revolting tribute to destruction complete with crashed planes, burned walls and portraits of Osama bin Laden and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Ehrmann, top banana at Artprice.com, won a court case against the village of Saint-Romain-au-Mont-d’Or, on the outskirts of the French city of Lyons.
This is an artist whose landscape goes well beyond his own front room. Indulging his artistic streak meant the transformation of his 17th century mansion into a tribute to destruction, described by the artist as « a third millennium’s museum. « It’s here to mark the start of the 21st century, the day of 9/11. » (www.bloomberg.com).
One man’s art may be another man’s outrage.
« It’s too easy to say `this is art’ when in fact it’s just the whim of some crazy rich person, » Pierre Dumont, the village mayor said in a phone interview. « My point here is to have him respect urban construction rules that everyone, even millionaires, must abide by. » The mayor said the court’s ruling left him « speechless » and tempts him to take the case all the way to France’s highest court.
When villagers balked, Ehrmann took his right to artistic expression to court‹and won, although he was zapped with a $200,000-euro (253,840) fine for not having obtained authorization before beginning construction.
Ehrmann is anything but your typical attic-bound starving artist. His auction-data collection company is a surviving holdover from France’s dotcom era, which affords him a Hummer, a Jaguar and a Bentley. His lifestyle, which includes a wife and a concubine living under the same roof, is too rich even for France.
Some villagers see it as worthy of note that the 237th richest businessman in France was a Free Mason and a former Opus Dei executive, long before he turned to a crusade as an artist fighting for expression.
9/11 is far too sensitive a subject to be flamboyantly frivolous about.
« If he wants to re-build his Ground Zero, fair enough, he can do it inside his property, » Nicolas Poussineau, one of the angered villagers, told Bloomberg’s Paris reporter. « We just don’t want to suffer his neurosis each time we look at the house when we enter or exit the village. »
What many villagers are calling an « eyesore » cost the artist some 5 million euros. Not only has Ehrmann fought the town’s residents, he hired a big name lawyer; has tried unsuccessfully to rally political support; has used his personal wealth to sue the villagers and staged highbrow debates on the status of contemporary works of art.
After all was said and done, villagers will tell you that their toddler crayoned dining room walls show far more artistic value.
Nor does it appear that the artist is willing to give up on his work in progress any time soon. He adds a new piece daily, either inside or outside the house, depending on his artistic temperament. As far as is known, none of the town’s 1,000 residents leafed through his self-published 1,265-page catalogue of the works.
Ehrmann’s burned and scorched walls stand out like the only petunia in the village garden patch and make a stark contrast from the 16th and 17th century architectural harmony that marks Saint-Romain-au-Mont-d’or as home.
It’s an upscale neighbourhood and as far as the villagers are concerned, eccentrics should not be encouraged.
With the way art councils of the day fund almost anything in the name of art, it’s surprising that the US National Endowment for the Arts or the Canadian Council for the Arts have not jumped in with funding for « Abode of Chaos« .
©2006 Canada Free Press