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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Paris Street Plays Host To Statues

PARIS -- There's a new reason to love Paris in the springtime -- its grandest avenue has been transformed into a sprawling sculpture garden.

From Rodin's monumental rendition of the novelist Balzac to Nicki de Saint-Phalle's fanciful and fat "Nana," the 50 sculptures on display are by some of the century's greatest names in art.

Pieces by Picasso, Cesar, Dubuffet, Tinguely, Arman and Giacometti are already drawing crowds to the Champs-Elys?es, where workers were putting the finishing touches on installations scheduled to open Thursday.

Security remained tight, albeit discreet. Dozens of gendarmes with walkie-talkies patrolled les Champs, as the avenue is affectionately known, along with specially trained watch dogs at night. The $1.5 million show, financed by the city of Paris and 15 private sponsors, including the Japanese Yoshii Foundation, travels to Japan after it closes June 9.

Stretching a kilometer, it celebrates the completion of the thoroughfare's five-year, $45-million beautification project. Les Champs is now more pedestrian-friendly, with better lighting, wider sidewalks of elegant, inlaid granite and underground parking.

Paris Mayor Jean Tiberi said the show is proof the city takes its image as a cultural capital seriously.

However, not everybody agrees with Tiberi's definition of high culture. French screen star Jean-Paul Belmondo, son of sculptor Paul Belmondo, whose works were passed over for the show, said: "The squashed metal on the Champs doesn't make it as art."

But for most visitors, it is a must-see treat.

"What a glorious Easter present," said Bettie Haincaud, a retired Parisian who has strolled among the works every day since the installation began.

-- rejected as undignified when first unveiled in 1898 --, Maillol

"We can't take anything for granted. It's a constant battle," he said.