« The end of the world is nearing »
Saint-Romain-Au-Mont-D`Or, France, Dec 17: A replica of the World Trade Center ruins is the last thing you expect to find in a tranquil corner of provincial France. Yet there it is, along with a sign that reads: « The end of the world is nearing. »
This is the Abode of Chaos — art gallery extraordinaire or the local eyesore, depending on who you ask. Twisted car carcasses are heaped in the yard, and the water in the swimming pool out back is tinted a murky blood red. Portraits of Osama bin Laden and other terrorists gaze down at passers-by.
Just a few years ago, the Abode of Chaos was a charming 17th-century residence, perfectly at home on a street of well-preserved farmhouses, golden-hued stone walls and pansies in window boxes.
The Abode`s creator, eccentric entrepreneur Thierry Ehrmann, has been locked in a legal battle with the mayor`s office in this town of 1,100 outside Lyon, in central France, and the trial has made its way to France`s highest court.
The case has sparked heated debate, in court, in blogs, on petitions. Is the Abode of Chaos art? And what neighbor, no matter how open-minded, would want to wake up every morning to Ehrmann`s vision of the apocalypse?
« He has the right to call it art, » said neighbor Marie-Laure Houelle. « We have the right not to like it. »
Mayor Pierre Dumont is enraged that Ehrmann imposed his vision on the townspeople, and that he didn`t seek permission to blacken his home`s golden stone walls, cover the house with graffiti and build a mock oil platform on top of it.
Now, hordes of visitors — 80,000 so far this year — appear on the weekends, when the Abode is open for free admission.
« This is a little village that is asking only one thing: To be left in peace, » said Dumont, a soft-spoken man who keeps drawings by local children on the walls of his office. Ehrmann, though frustrated that the case is dragging on, is delighted that his creation could set a legal precedent. He compares it to the historic Brancusi affair in the 1920s, when U.S. customs officials refused to let one of sculptor Constantin Brancusi`s abstract designs into the country duty-free — they claimed it was just a metal object, not art. A court eventually ruled that abstract forms could qualify as art, stretching its legal definitions.
« The most important purpose of a work of art is to raise questions, » Ehrmann said in an interview in his office, where he has to climb over his donut-shaped desk to reach a swivel chair in the center. « A work of art that raises no questions is not a work of art. »
The legal spat began with a suit by the mayor`s office. In February, Ehrmann was fined and ordered to put the Abode back in its original state. Then a Lyon appeals court ruled in September that the Abode was a form of art and could remain as is, though Ehrmann was ordered to pay $266,000 for failing to get authorization for construction. Prosecutor Jean-Olivier Viout sent the case to the Court of Cassation, the highest French court. He wants judges to address an overarching question: Do the courts even have the right to define what is art? No date has been set yet for a ruling.
©2006 Zee News