Despite his passing, the master of land art continues to grace the world with his breathtaking large-scale installations, the latest of which has just taken over the Arc de Triomphe
Words by: Gilda Bruno
Art transcends space and time, moving beyond the obstacles that prevent us from aspiring to eternity and becoming one with the supernatural. Or, at least, that’s my first, most genuine reaction to the opening of L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, Christo Javacheff (1935-2020) and his wife Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon (1935-2009)’s posthumous artwork, on display in Paris between September 18 and October 3.
Originally scheduled to open in the fall of 2020 and postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions, the 60-years-in-the-making project consists of 25,000 square meters of recyclable blue and silver polypropylene fabric, skillfully combined with 7,000 meters of red rope to ‘package’ one of the most emblematic symbols of the French capital.
Already in 2019, Christo — the other half of the apple internationally known as groundbreaking artist duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude — had been granted permission to project his artistic vision onto the Arc de Triomphe; a masterpiece that instantly recalls yet another one of the couple’s sensational installations, namely the 1985 Pont Neuf Wrapped, an environmental piece of art that covered the bridge and its 44 street lamps in a sandstone-coloured fabric for the pleasure of over three million visitors in just two weeks time.
Throughout their decades-long artistic collaboration and poignant romance, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the proof that twin souls do in fact exist (both artists were born on 13 June 1935), travelled the world to adorn its most diverse destinations — from the Australian Coast (Wrapped Coast, Little Bay, Sydney, Australia, 1968–69) and the mountains of Colorado (Valley Curtain, Rifle, Colorado, 1970–72) to Kansas City’s Jacob Loose Park (Wrapped Walk Ways, 1978) and Central Park’s Gates (The Gates, Central Park, New York City, 1979-2005); whether this meant wrapping up the Roman Wall (The Wall—Wrapped Roman Wall, Via Veneto and Villa Borghese, Rome, Italy, 1973-74) or Berlin’s Reichstag building (Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin, 1971-95) — with the fruits of their visionary craft.
The artists’ first encounter, which took place in Paris, now home to their posthumous artwork, dates back all the way to 1958: the year in which Jeanne-Claude commissioned Christo with a portrait of her mother.
L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped (2021) is nothing but the latest gift that the artists had wanted to share with everyone who has had the pleasure to witness the unveiling of their incredible story. “All our projects deal with reality. You are exposed to real things: real sun, wind, rain, fear, joy. That is why these projects are bigger than our own imaginations,” reads a recent Tweet quoting Christo’s words on the official account of the artist duo.
“It will be like a living object that will move in the wind and reflect the light. With its moving folds, the monument’s surface will become sensual. People will want to touch the Arc de Triomphe,” commented the genius of land art on his latest masterpiece, also described as his ‘final wish.’
Just like it happened for any other artwork produced by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the project is entirely self-funded. The expenses for its realisation, estimated to reach 14,000,000 euros, will be covered through the auction of preparatory studies, collages and models of previously developed works, drawings as well as original lithographies developed by Christo himself. It is needless to say that, in line with the duo’s beliefs, no tickets will be required to “see, approach, and touch the work of art,” as also specified on their Twitter account. To make the Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped even more accessible to the public, and especially to pedestrians, Place de l’Étoile will be closed to vehicular traffic on the weekend.
In a recent interview published in the Brooklyn Rail and containing some of the last precious testimonials from the artist before his passing, Christo had revealed the key to their most successful — although several years in the making — artworks of all time.
“It is NOT patience! Jeanne-Claude always said passion,” the half of the artist duo had pointed out on that occasion when asked about what kept him and his wife motivated in the wait preceding the launch of their new pieces of art. “Patience is a very banal thing. Some projects stay in our hearts; some we simply lose interest in. Each project has its own story and timing.” The same passion now running through the embellished volumes of the Arc de Triomphe, on display in Paris until October 3, 2021.
You can watch the live stream of the installation on Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s official website.