Christo and Jeanne-Claude were known for their large-scale installations, which cast longstanding monuments and structures in a different light. The wrapped Arc de Triomphe provokes viewers to rethink their personal conceptions of art and the complicated history of the monument.

In Paris, crowds gather to view the wrapped Arc de Triomphe.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s artistic career

The Bulgarian-born artist, Christo Vladimirov Javacheff, and his wife Jeanne-Claude, built a career mainly from using fabric to conceal or augment landmarks. The wrapped structures include the Aurelian Wall in Rome, the Pont Neuf in France, and the Reichstag in Berlin. They also installed various fabric structures in natural landscapes such as the Valley Curtain in Colorado, Surrounded Islands in Biscayne Bay using bright pink fabric to encircle 11 islands, The Umbrellas in Japan using 1,360 giant blue umbrellas, and The Gates in New York’s Central Park, using flowing saffron-colored flags.

Their plan to wrap the Arc de Triomphe was a decades-long vision, one that was finally realized by their team after Christo’s death last year, carefully following his original drawings.

Arc de Triomphe
Christo’s original drawings envision the installation as representative of the French flag’s colors.

Wrapping the Arc de Triomphe

The project’s scale is immense. Costing $16.5 million, the installation uses around 269,000 square feet of silvery blue polypropylene, steel framework to protect the edifice, and 9,850 feet of red rope. Around 1,200 workers toiled on the installation, painstakingly constructing the steel bars to prevent the panels from abrading the delicate sculptures, and dramatically unfurling the rolls of fabric. In a few moments, the iconic monument was transformed into an unfamiliar form at the top of the Champs Élysées, with the fabric breathing over the concealed monument and glinting in the sun.

A worker installs one of the project’s lengthy red ropes.
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe’s sculptural friezes and reliefs are carved in limestone.

“L’art – c’est moi!”

For many viewers of the Arc de Triomphe, the project’s meaning is not readily apparent. One of the central purposes of art is to draw viewers from their daily lives and compel them to consider familiar objects or ideas in a different way. Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s works are highly controversial, and seem to say to the world: “Look at me!” Whether or not the response is favorable, their works prompt reaction and discussion.

A detail of the installation captures the flowing fabric.

In the art world, where laudable pieces are generally expected to be original, highly skilled and technically intricate creations, and made to last and appreciated by future generations, Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s designs defy all conventions. Their works are ephemeral, with a simple and recurring theme. They reimagine existing structures and respond to the environment. Is it art? Does Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s installation diminish or enhance the Arc de Triomphe’s meaning and beauty? For many, the installation is a creative act that will compel a newfound appreciation for the Arc as a result of the strong sentiments aroused by this covering of the treasured monument. If the purpose of “Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped”, is to provoke recognition for the monument, then Christo and Jeanne-Claude have achieved their aim.

All photos are courtesy of The Artists Rights Society.

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