Situating The Mound of Vendôme, the current exhibition on view at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, requires looking back into Paris' history after the French Revolution. For a tumultuous two months in 1871, the city was under the control of the Commune de Paris, a socialist revolutionary government. Their distaste for imperialistic brute force and Bonapartism led to their demolition of the Place Vendôme Column, a monumental column celebrating Napoleon's military victories -- and so on May 16, 1871, the Column was felled, and the statue of Napoleon from the Column's peak melted down for coins. After the Commune was ousted, the Column was rebuilt in 1874, topped by a copy of the original Napoleon statue.
To control the Column's fall and protect surrounding buildings, Communards piled a large mound of sand, straw, branches, and manure at its base, a large architectural intervention that completely disrupted the Column's imposing icon. These days, however, all traces of these events are absent from Place Vendôme, threatening that such dramatic political disruption, with architecture as its means, be lost in history.
The Mound of Vendôme exhibition, curated by historian and theorist David Gissen (who also serves as the Interim Director of Architecture at California College of the Arts), plans for the reconstruction of that dirt mound today. On view until September 14, Gissen's exhibition uses the Mound as a provocation for new memorial and monumental forms.
From CCA's description of the exhibition:
Drawn from the CCA’s extensive collection of Commune-era holdings, the exhibition showcases a series of photographs and engravings that document the square before and after the destruction of the column: an unknown photographer captures a perspective of the Column in 1851, Bruno Braquehais photographs the fallen statue of Napoleon in Roman imperial garments in 1871 and Charles Marville documents the reconstruction of the column two years later. The exhibition contemporary proposal is supported by a series of new works including visual renderings, a model of the column and the mound, photographs and the petition addressed to city officials to reconstruct the Mound of Vendôme.