The artist Christo Javacheff, born in Bulgaria in 1935, moved to Paris in 1958 and began experimenting with cloth and rope to create captivating installations. The idea of wrapping the Arc de Triomphe in fabric might seem frivolous. One of the most famous monuments in Paris is the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, a monument that honors those who fought for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. The artist couple Christo and Jeanne-Claude dreamed for many years of covering it with fabric. Their first plan was drafted in 1962 while renting a small room near the monument and they created a photo collage showing how it would look. Assuming permission would be impossible, they never seriously considered the idea. A major public installation he and Jeanne-Claude oversaw in 1985 involved wrapping Paris’ oldest bridge in yellow cloth.

Why L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, an important arc in Art industry - Sheet1
Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, (Project for Paris), Collage 1961–88: 71.1 x 55.9 cm (28 x 22″) Pencil, fabric, twine, pastel, charcoal, wax crayon, map, and Photostat from postcard_Private collection _©Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation, New York

Liberation through expression

Why L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, an important arc in Art industry - Sheet2
Christo in his studio, working on a large preparatory drawing for the Arc de Triomphe_© Volz, W.(2020). Wrapped photo.

A rallying cry of Christo and Jeanne-Claude was “Our work of art is a scream of freedom.” It must be seen as an expression of irrational freedom without any justification. He said once in an interview that my decision was like that of a painter who paints a blank canvas. No one asks him why he paints it blue, black, or red. The way he does it, he does it instinctively. Though it is not necessary to wrap a monument in fabric. It can act as a celebration of living in a free society. It should be celebrated, not avoided. Furthermore, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who originally immigrated from Morocco, never thought of freedom merely as a theoretical idea, but as something, they actively promoted and fought for. In order to prevent the authorities from controlling the purse strings and therefore the projects, they funded all their large-scale projects.

Art Project

Why L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, an important arc in Art industry - Sheet3
Crowds walk on the car-free Place Charles de Gaulle to see Christo’s fabric-wrapped Arc de Triomphe_© Saget, J.
Huge crowds of onlookers turned out on the Champs-Elysees _© Saget, J.

People walking by were intrigued by workers unfurling recyclable plastic sheets. To cover the arch, 25,000 square meters (269,000 square feet) of fabric are used. Red rope, which can also be recycled, is included in the project along with fabric. An almost nonsensical sight, the wrapped arch appears up close. For a structure this size, the rippling fabric wouldn’t make sense. The monument stands more than 160 feet high and almost as wide. It works on a physical level: bright red ropes tie the package together, rubbing the silver paint off the fabric at points, revealing a blue substrate. Materiality, and friction, don’t quite scan for something meant to be rendered in limestone. Like seeing a frozen waterfall, the installation is visually captivating. Seeing it can be a spiritually uplifting experience. It was Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s way to do things the hard way. Christo’s sculptures and drawings gained a civic dimension from Jeanne-Claude, who died in 2009, by proposing that local municipalities work with them to implement them.   As a result, they made the red tape they inevitably encountered as a part of the work. Running Fence (1978) shows Albert and David Maysles engaged in negotiations with California ranchers and bureaucrats, trying to convince a deeply skeptical audience to allow them to suspend 2 million square feet of white nylon fabric over 24 miles of ranch land to the Pacific coast. Winning over California took 18 public hearings and three court challenges over four years. It took 26 years for New York City to grant permission for Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Gates in Central Park in 1979. 

This project is executed well: the fabric is neatly gathered around the stone at the haunch and crown of the vaults, where the wrapping meets the underside of the arch. Considering the sheer size of the engineering problem, perhaps this was inevitable. While the precision is impressive, it contradicts the literal method of wrapping objects in scads of cloth. The Arc de Triomphe does not look wrapped but rather shaped. Its engineering, assembly, and implementation employed over 1,200 people, primarily in France, during its 16-day exhibition. The event was the largest free cultural event in Paris since the outbreak, and more than six million people attended. Over 270 million people saw it on Twitter alone, with hundreds of millions more witnessing it through media and digital sources. 

In addition to small business closures and job losses, Paris has also had to overcome the challenges brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic. Artists and the creative industry have been adversely affected by the closure of galleries, concert halls, theaters, and other event spaces in the cultural sector. In addition to the economic benefits, these projects brought people from diverse backgrounds together in a shared civic experience, enhancing our sense of community and commonality. Furthermore, the projects allowed Parisians and New Yorkers to pause and reflect on beloved landmarks, and experience them in a new light.

References

(www.dw.com), D., 2022. Arc de Triomphe: Paris monument wrapped in Christo art tribute | DW | 13.09.2021. [online] DW.COM. Available at: <https://www.dw.com/en/arc-de-triomphe-paris-monument-wrapped-in-christo-art-tribute/a-59169124> [Accessed 14 July 2022].

Bloomberg.com. 2022. Bloomberg – Are you a robot?. [online] Available at: <https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2021-09-21/wrapped-arc-de-triomphe-delights-divides-paris> [Accessed 14 July 2022].

May, T., 2022. Why L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped is the most important artistic statement of the 2020s. [online] Creative Boom. Available at: <https://www.creativeboom.com/features/christo-and-jeanne-claude-larc-de-triomphe-wrapped/> [Accessed 14 July 2022].

Mike Bloomberg. 2022. Op-Ed: The Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, A Success and A Symbol of Recovery | Mike Bloomberg. [online] Available at: <https://www.mikebloomberg.com/news/op-ed-the-arc-de-triomphe-wrapped-a-success-and-a-symbol-of-recovery/> [Accessed 14 July 2022].

Author

An observant Architect and wandering soul who captures the tales of poetic experiences through writing. She is a traveler by heart who explores the essence through understanding the relationship between people and places with sensitivity, as she believes “Architecture is an extension of one’s life “

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