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‘Punk millionaire’ declares estate of emergency

Arts & literature

‘Punk millionaire’ declares estate of emergency

Saturday September 23, 2006
By Catherine Field

FRANCE – « War in progress » is emblazoned in foot-high graffiti on the entrance.

In the courtyard lies a wrecked helicopter. There is a 10m high recreation of the ruins of New York’s Twin Towers.

The garden has the carcass of a plane, and wrecked cars are littered around.

The walls of a stone building give prominence to sinister portraits of George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden, 9/11 conspirator Zacharias Moussaoui, Ariel Sharon and Fidel Castro. The swimming pool is filled with a red, blood-like liquid.

Is it modern art, made to cause shock and awe? Or is it a worthless obsession, full of schlock and gore? The question has been handed to France’s paramount court to decide.

In the judges’ hands is La Demeure du Chaos (The Abode of Chaos), the apocalyptic vision of Thierry Ehrmann, 44, who made a fortune from two dot.com businesses and is among France’s 300 richest individuals.

Before Ehrmann came along, Saint-Romain-au-Mont-d’Or was a tranquil, upmarket village on the fringes of Lyon. Genteel village life came skidding to an end in 1999, however, when Ehrmann purchased a fine 17th-century post house and began transforming its vast walled garden into a personalised open-air art show.

To start with, the building reflected his various beliefs, which include Catholicism and alchemy. After September 11, 2001, the project mutated into a museum of death, destruction and disorder. According to press reports, Ehrmann has spent $3-5 million on 2500 works by 41 artists.

Opposing Ehrmann is St-Romain’s 70-year-old mayor Pierre Dumont, a doughty, retired electrical engineer who says The Abode of Chaos is a dog’s breakfast of ugliness, a daft provocation and – worst of all – a breach of planning regulations.

Ehrmann, dubbed France’s « punk millionaire » for his black clothes and extreme wealth, has two dogs, two children, two live-in female partners – and a contempt for convention.

« Anything that remains of the bourgeois apparatus should be drowned in a state of permanent war, » said Ehrmann.

Dumont, supported by aghast neighbours, opened his campaign in 2004. In February, he won the first round, with the district court in Lyon ordering Ehrmann to return the property to its original state.

Ehrmann appealed and launched a petition in which he claimed to have received 54,000 signatures.

He won the second round last week. A higher court overturned the early ruling and instead fined Ehrmann €200,000 ($387,000) for failing to seek authorisation for modifying the building, but agreed the place was a work of art and its contents could remain.

Undeterred, Dumont immediately announced he would contest that ruling at France’s Court of Appeal, the court of last resort.

Lyon public prosecutor Jean-Olivier Viot, who supports Dumont, said: « Is a court of law competent for determining what is a work of art? We believe that the Court of Appeal should pronounce on this legal issue. »

This summer, the site has been visited by thousands of art lovers, goths and the simply curious.

Dumont fears for the village’s future – not least because one of Ehrmann’s neighbours is now setting up an « Abode of Eden » complete with a towering dinosaur.

Author
Catherine Field

copyright ©2006 New Zealand Herald http://www.nzherald.co.nz/

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septembre 24, 2006 - Posted by | La Revue de Presse

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