The maze of concrete slabs sprawled incongruously at the feet of three gleaming office buildings looks more like war rubble than a work of art.
In fact it is a legal battlefield: These neglected, sinuous forms in a Paris suburb are the object of a bittle lawsuit pitting artist against patron. Can a work of art - if these tentative forms qualify as one - be destroyed against the wishes of the artist?
The unfinished work in question was to have been 75-year-old Jean Dubuffet's biggest work, a plastic andconcrete park 120-by-180 feet, in the courtyard of the new headquarters for the state-owned automobile company, Renault.
In this giant puzzle, full of white, black and blue squiggles and blobs in the style of Dubuffet's "Hourloups," Renault employees were to sit in nooks beside a cool pool or in the shade of plastic "trees" 27 feet tall.
But citing cost overruns and technical difficulties, Renault suspended construction in the fall of 1975.
Dubuffet, who in his art and writings has mocked society's institutions, retaliated by demanding society's protection.He has taken Renault to court, claiming that art patrons do not have the right to destroy works of art. He lost the first round but has appealed.
"This is an intolerable outrage," he proclaimed in a public call for support. "Of course when a work of art is commissioned, and a model presented, the patron has the right to decide whether or not to go ahead with it. That's obvious. But if doesn't follow that once the work is built - even if it is unfished - he has the right to destroy it."
In fact the issue is not so much whether Renault can destroy the monument as whether it is obligated to finish it.
"We never decided to destroy it," said Renault spokesman Jean-Pierre Mercier, although he conceded that the monument could not be ldft permanently in its present state.
And Dubuffet is clearly less concerned with protecting the unfinished work from bulldozers than seeing his cherished brainchild completed. He has even offered to contribute a million francs ($200,000) out of his own pocket.
For its part, Renault has offered to "give" Dubuffet the monument, if he can find a new patron - a gift that would include the monument's conception but could hardly include the present foundation, incapable of being moved.
The ill-starred history of "Salon d'Ete," as Dubuffet named the monument, goes back to 1973, when Renault asked a number of artist to decorate its new headquarters, three bland aluminium and glass buildings in the drab western suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt, across the Seine from Paris.
Dubuffet himself decorated six dinner rooms, and other artist, including Vasarely, Soto and Dewasne, decorated additional rooms and the entrance hall. Walking into the building is like stepping into a work of art.
Renault also asked Dubuffet to prepare a model for a monument in the large courtyard between the buildings. The model was accepted in August 1974 - "It was perfect," Mercier said - and Dubuffet was paid 40,000 francs.
But little more than a year later work on the monuments was halted.
Dubuffet blames the about-face on the retirement of company president Pierre Dreyfus, who had commissioned the work. He says that the new president, Bernald Venter-Palliez, felt Renault had no business patronizing art. Certainly there was a curious absence of any inaugural ceremonies for the art that was completed.
Mercier denies this. "The decision to halt construction was taken under Mr. Dreyfus," he said. "Work was suspended in October 1975, and Mr. Dreyfus left Renault in December. We have the highest opinion of Mr. Dubuffet."
Mercier says the monument was abandoned strictly for technical and financial reasons: Building it full-size was more complicated than had been thought, and would cost two or three times the orginial 2-million franc estimate ($400,000). "There were also problems of upkeep, because of the diversity of materials used," he said.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the dispute, there is no doubt that it has become a bitter one, with hard feelings on both sides.
"We would have to deal with this problem man to man," Mercier said. "Now it's lawyer to lawyer; once that mechanicm has been started no one can stop it."
A civil court in Paris ruled March 23 that the existing foundation is not a work of art, and that Renault is not obligated to complete it. It said that when Dubuffet signed the contract for the preparation of the model he agreed to the possibility that the monument would not be built full size.
"We don't know when the Court of Appeal will rule," Mercier said. "It could be weeks, or it could be monts."
In the meantime, Dubuffet has reacted with all the rage and hurt of 2 parent whose favourite child has been insulted.
"I worked 10 months to create this monument," he wrote to the newspaper Le Figaro. "I thought about it carefully, I redid it several times, I gave it my best , all my care, all my ardor, sparing neither effort nor expense.
"Twenty-five thousand hours of fervent and enthusiastic work have been devoted tobuilding it by 40 people. And now will these haughty gentlemen insult us all by destroying it, claiming that they lack the money to finish it? Has Renault suddenly become so poor?"