The Arc de Triomphe in Paris will be swathed in silvery blue fabric and red rope as a posthumous project planned by the artist Christo since the early 1960s finally becomes reality.
Work will begin next month on L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, a €14m installation at one of the world’s most recognised monuments. The arch will be swathed in 25,000 sq/m of recyclable polypropylene fabric, fixed with 3,000 m of red rope, also recyclable.
The project is the realisation of a dream spanning almost 60 years for Christo and his French wife, Jeanne-Claude, who first drew up plans to wrap the Arc de Triomphe in 1962 while renting a small room near the monument.
“A photo montage of how it would look was done but they never proposed actually doing it because they thought they would never get the necessary permission,” Christo’s nephew Vladimir Javacheff told the Guardian last week.
“We can do this project without him today because they [Christo and Jeanne-Claude] already drew up every visual and artistic aspect of it. This project is 100% Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s project. It was his wish that this should happen even after he was gone. We are just realising his vision.”
The idea was revived in 2017 to coincide with a Christo exhibition and has been approved by the Paris City authorities and the Centre des monuments nationaux, which oversees public monuments. Jeanne-Claude died in 2009 and Christo died in May last year.
Construction teams will work for 12 weeks to begin building the installation after France’s traditional Bastille Day 14 July commemorations on the Champs Elysées, that starts at the Arc de Triomphe, to complete it before 18 September. Like most of Christo’s work, it will be temporary. On 3 October, work will begin to remove the wrapping in time for the November Armistice Day ceremonies.
The project has been entirely funded through the sale of Christo’s preparatory studies, drawings and collages of the project as well as scale models, works from the 1950s and 1960s and original lithographs on other subjects. It will receive no public funds.
The Eternal Flame, in front of the tomb of the Unknown Warrior at the Arc de Triomphe, will continue to burn throughout the preparation and display of the artwork.
Born Christo Vladimirov Javacheff in Bulgaria, the artist studied in Sofia but defected to the west in 1957, stowing away on a train from Prague to Vienna and on via Geneva to Paris where he met Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon who became his wife and artistic partner until her death in 2009. The couple moved to New York in 1964, spending their first three years there as illegal immigrants.
Among Christo’s most famous works were wrapping the entire Reichstag in Berlin in 1995 and the Pont-Neuf in Paris in 1985.
Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris said: “Thirty-five years after Pont-Neuf, one of the most ambitious projects of Christo and Jeanne-Claude will see the day ….the Arc de Triomphe will be wrapped according to Christo’s wishes to highlight this symbolic monument of our capital and our history. More than a year after Christo’s death, Paris is continuing the work of this great artist. It is an opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to him and to defend our attachment to contemporary creation.”
L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped was due to take place last year to coincide with a Christo exhibition at Paris’s Pompidou Centre but was cancelled because of Covid.
Javacheff says there was another unforeseen hitch. “The French bird protection league contacted us and said there is a kestrel falcon nesting in the monument and could we postpone the project until September,” he said.
In an interview last year, while under Covid isolation in March 2020, shortly before his death, Christo gave an interview and recalled being invited to do “something” outside the Pompidou Centre to coincide with his exhibition. He replied: “I will never do anything here. If I do something, it will be to wrap the Arc de Triomphe, but nothing else.
“The packaging of the Arc de Triomphe is quite special,” Christo said. “It all came together quite suddenly. The proposal goes back to 1962, of course, but the authorisation was granted suddenly.
“I never imagined that this would happen.”
The artist said he had barely 18 months to draw up the concrete details of the Arc de Triomphe project.
“We had 10 years for the Pont Neuf. We had 25 years for the Reichstag because it was refused three times. We waited 26 years for the Gates [Central Park, New York] after being turned down again and again. That’s not patience … Jeanne-Claude always said it was passion,” he said.
“In the 1960s I made several plans that we sold to finance other projects. At the end of the 1980s I even made a very elaborate collage edition with fabric, we thought at that time that the Arc de Triomphe project would never see the light of day. Honestly, it’s strange how suddenly everything came together.”
He added: “I never though it would ever happen … But I want you to know that many of these projects can be built without me. Everything is already written.”