Known for their large-scale installations, often featuring landmarks and landscapes wrapped in fabric and rope, artist duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude began creating temporary works of art in public spaces in 1961, three years after they met in Paris. It was in the same year that Christo first imagined wrapping the Arc de Triomphe. “It will be like a living object which will move in the wind and reflect the light,” Christo said at the time. “With its moving folds, the monument’s surface will become sensual. People will want to touch the Arc de Triomphe.”
The artists went on to fabric-wrap a number of other monuments and buildings in the mid-1960s, and pursued more than a dozen ambitious projects around the world in the years that followed. They wrapped a 92,900-square-metre section of the Australian coastline in 1969 and cloaked Paris’ Pont-Neuf bridge with fabric in 1985. Ten years later, the Reichstag building in Germany received the same treatment.
With the installation Wrapped Trees (located in Riehen, Switzerland), the artists expanded their practice of fabric and rope wrapping to include a grove of living trees. The piece was unveiled to the public in 1998, signalling the culmination of a project that was 32 years in the making.
L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, Paris (1961-2021) by Christo and Jeanne-Claude
But as time went by, Christo and Jeanne-Claude never lost sight of their vision for the Arc de Triomphe. Christo revisited the proposal in a collage in 1988, where he once again illustrated the monument wrapped in fabric and rope. It wasn’t until 2017, however, that he began actively developing the installation, several years after Jeanne-Claude’s passing in 2009.
“When the Centre Pompidou, while preparing the beautiful retrospective of the Parisian projects of the couple, invited Christo to think about a new project for Paris, he instantly answered: ‘the Arc de Triomphe’,” referring to his long-held vision, says Roselyne Bachelot, France’s minister of culture.
Today, 60 years after the genesis of the project, and just one year after Christo’s untimely death, the project has finally been brought to life. Delayed by the pandemic, it was fully funded by the late artists at a cost of €14 million, and installed by their team in partnership with the Centre des Monuments Nationaux (CMN), the Ville de Paris and the Centre Pompidou.
“Christo and Jeanne-Claude are no longer alive and I wish to pay them tribute. It was in Paris, the city where they met, that their love and artistic relationship was born, and it is for Paris that they have conceived many artistic projects,” Roselyne says. “I am proud that this project is today fulfilled.”
Titled L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, Paris (1961-2021), the installation is now open to the public. The timed and ticketed exhibition sees the monument wrapped in a temporary veil of 25,000 square meters of silvery blue polypropylene fabric, held tight with 3000 meters of red rope. Both materials were chosen for their visual and recyclable qualities.
“Christo approved every visual aspect of this project, and in a way it is a memorial to the life and work [of] Christo and Jeanne-Claude … which always exceeded what we believe to be possible,” says Vladimir Yavachev, project director of L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped.
“The true identity of every Christo and Jeanne-Claude project is revealed in the process of its creation. The same is true for L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, which lives on and evolves along with the social, political and physical landscape,” Vladimir explains. “As Christo liked to say, ‘Our projects are alive’, and today L’Arc de Triomphe has come to life.”
For 16 days from September 18, Parisians as well as tourists are invited to witness the artists’ vision. They can come forward and touch the artwork, feel its silvery fabric, and “see the wind rustle the 25,000 square meters of cloth,” says Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris.
Viewed from each of the 12 long avenues that funnel towards the Place de l’Etoile – the location of the Arc de Triomphe – visitors can experience and document a new perspective of the iconic monument. “With this ambitious project, Christo and Jeanne-Claude wanted to disrupt the way we look at the Arc de Triomphe and invite us to think, contemplate and share,” Anne explains.
After six decades of ideation, the completion of the project is a fitting tribute to the two deceased artists, and a perfectly wrapped gift to the city of Paris. But Anne believes the work is also a tribute “to the process of creation” and to the “artistic freedom that goes beyond the traditional boundaries of sculpture and architecture”. It’s a work which feels alive, that’s open to all and “which everyone can make their own,” she concludes.
To enable visitors to enjoy the installation safely and close up, the Place de l’Etoile will be “pedestrianised” for the three weekends of its presentation to the public. L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped (1961-2021) by Christo and Jeanne-Claude will be on view from September 18 to October 3, 2021. For more images, follow the hashtag #ChristoParis on social media.
With this ambitious project, Christo and Jeanne-Claude wanted to disrupt the way we look at the Arc de Triomphe and invite us to think, contemplate and share.