Wrapping the Arc de Triomphe in 25,000 square metres of material has begun, fulfilling a 60-year dream of late artists ‘Christo’. The iconic duo, Christo Vladimirov Javacheff (1935-2020) and Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon (1935-2009), passed away before their major installation was unfurled in the heart of Paris.
Known together as ‘Christo’, Jeanne-Claude met her future husband Christo in Paris in 1957 after he had defected from Bulgaria to the west. They became life partners in the creation of site-specific monumental works of art, pushing the boundaries of painting, sculpture, and architecture.
“The biggest challenge for me is that Christo is not here,” reflected the artist’s nephew Vladimir Yavachev. “I miss his enthusiasm, his criticism, his energy and that is for me the biggest challenge.”
Construction workers will spend the next week wrapping the 19th-century war monument in silvery blue fabric and 3,000 metres of red rope. The process of unfurling the vast swathes of material can be viewed via a time-lapse and live-streaming videos on the artist’s website.
The couple first conceived the idea in 1962, but it was never officially proposed and dwindled into a pipedream. In 2017, Paris city authorities and the Centre des monuments nationaux finally approved the revived concept. Christo sadly died of natural causes last year while the project was still in the planning stages.
“This is Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s vision. It’s very important that we pay attention to every detail that Christo wanted,” explained Yavachev. “It was completely designed by Christo to the very last detail and we have to keep to that. If people come and say it’s just like the drawings, that means we’ve done a good job.”
Costing €14 million (£12 million), the project has been entirely funded through the sale of Christo’s artworks. These include his preparatory studies, drawings and collages of the project as well as scale models, the couple’s works from the 1950s and 1960s, and original lithographs.
Speaking about the Arc de Triomphe, Christo once said “it will be like a living object stimulated by the wind and reflecting the light. The folds will move and the monument’s surface will become sensual.”
Wrapping was a key aspect of ‘Christo’s’ artistic output. In 1995 they wrapped the Reichstag in Berlin after 24 years of planning struggles, using silvery fabric and blue ropes to encase the historic government building. They also wrapped the Pont Neuf in Paris in 1985 with golden fabric, which is now regarded as the pièce de résistance of the couple’s career.
‘L’Arc de Triomphe, wrapped’, the posthumous artwork on the Champs-Élysées, is open from now until 3 October 2021, after which the wrapping will be removed in time for Armistice Day ceremonies.