ECONOMY

Christo’s Wrapped Arc de Triomphe Set for Its Moment of Glory

It couldn’t be done during their lifetimes. But about 60 years after artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude first dreamed of it, their art project of wrapping Paris’s landmark Arc de Triomphe monument in cloth will be completed this weekend. 

Wrapping the Napoleonic-era arc in 25,000 square meters of silvery-blue polypropylene fabric — recyclable and tethered with 3,000 meters of red rope — cost 14 million euros ($16.6 million) and involved more than 1,000 people. 

“L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped” is the final work of the artistic duo best known for wrapping the Pont Neuf in Paris and the Reichstag in Berlin. The now-deceased husband-and-wife team met in Paris after Christo Vladimir Javacheff, who was born in Bulgaria, immigrated to the French capital, residing near the Arc de Triomphe. The couple was known for their large-scale and site-specific installations that gave a nod to the environment in a movement known as “Land Art.”

The Arc de Triomphe installation process has been complex and in many ways an engineering marvel, said Anne Burghartz at SPB, the company that started working on the project while Christo was alive. 

“The fabric is like a huge sailing boat that has to be anchored to a historic monument with a clever system that doesn’t interfere with the facade,” she said. “I hope we’re going to make it look exactly like he wanted it to be.” 

The initial photo-montage of the wrapped Arc came together in 1962 but it wasn’t actively pursued until 2017, when it began to quickly make its way through the permits process. It then hit an unexpected snag: a family of falcons nesting on the monument. When that passed, public life in Paris — like in large swaths of the world — plunged into pandemic-led lockdowns. 

Now finally being completed, the temporary artwork will be on display only for 16 days, starting Sept. 18, after which it will need to be made bare again for Armistice Day commemorations in November.  

While Jeanne-Claude died in 2009, Christo almost lived to see his art project realized, passing away in May last year in New York at the age of 84. 

Done in conjunction with the French state’s museum agency Centre des Monuments Nationaux and with coordination from the city of Paris, the project was solely funded by the sales of Christo’s art.

“There’s no artistic interpretation on our part, we just have to fulfill the vision,” said Vladimir Yavached, Christo’s nephew, who worked with the duo for 30 years. Yavached sees the art in many ways representing the freedom people are beginning to feel after the lockdowns during the pandemic. 

“The Arc de Triomphe was initially built for winning battles and wars, and this is a battle and a war with an invisible enemy,” he said.

(Bloomberg Philanthropies is providing in-kind support to L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped.)

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