Magazine article Artforum International

No Pen Pal

Magazine article Artforum International

No Pen Pal

Article excerpt

For the price of a tramway ticket, the Strasbourg commuter purchases not only a ride through the city in a transparent, state-of-the-art streetcar, but also a series of encounters with contemporary artworks: Barbara Kruger's monumental anti-advertising campaign covering the lone underground station, Mario Merz's redneon Fibonacci numbers in translucent glass boxes embedded between the rails over nearly a mile of the surface line, and Jonathan Borofsky's Woman Walking to the Sky, on an eighty-two-foot pole that rises diagonally over a public square (a pendant to his Man Walking to the Sky in Kassel). Even the tickets are mini-artworks, imprinted with Gerard Collin-Thiebaud's "living encyclopedia of Strasbourg."

"Contemporary art is a sign of our times," then-mayor Catherine Trautmann declared at the November 1994 inauguration of these public commissions. "It must be visible and accessible to everyone." Indeed, during Trautmann's eight-year mayoral tenure, Strasbourg became one of France's leading cultural centers. Combining an international vision with grassroots applications, she not only piloted the European Center for Youth Creation (a new inner-city cultural complex), the International Writers' Parliament and its "refuge cities" program for writers in danger (Strasbourg is the European Parliament headquarters), and the Museum of modern and Contemporary Art scheduled to open in September 1998, but also neighborhood libraries, music-school outreach programs, and a "Culture Card" allowing young people to attend cultural events at reduced rates.

Most French people were, and probably still are, unaware of the preeminent qualifications Trautmann brings to her new post as Minister of Culture and Communications - the media have been more inclined to point out that she is the granddaughter of a Protestant minister, holds a theology degree, and has studied languages. But by last June's French elections, she had become a household name - as enemy number 1 of Jean-Marie Le Pen's neofascist Front National. Trautmann had spearheaded the massive countermobilization to the FN's annual congress, held in Strasbourg over Easter weekend; two months later, Le Pen was to lead off his party's final preelection rally by parading onstage with an effigy of her head on a platter.

For Trautmann, culture is inseparable from politics: "Accepting that writers are condemned to death in certain countries or not reacting when Front National municipalities cut off funding for theater, film, or dance, basically means opting for the most unenlightened forms of intolerance and mutual violence. …

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