After three months of construction work at the famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the 160-foot-tall war memorial has been completely hidden. The landmark, built during Napoleon’s reign, is covered in 270,000 square feet of silver-blue polypropylene fabric tied with red ropes.
Sixty years after the project was first conceptualized by Christo and Jean-Claude, the Arc de Triomphe has wrapped up. Credit: Benjamin Loyseau / Christo and Jean-Claude Foundation
Like many other projects by Christo and Jean-Claude, “L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped” is poised to be a fleeting, sublime encounter with an environmental artifact that disrupts everyday experience.
Christo in his studio in New York City with the preliminary drawing for “L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped” in 2019. Credit: Wolfgang Volz / Courtesy Christo and Jean-Claude Foundation
Christo’s nephew Vladimir Yavachev and the project’s director of operations, who worked with the artist for 30 years, explained that the shimmering colors of the fabric and the fiery ropes are Christo’s “poetic interpretation” of the blue, white and red colors of the French flag.
“He liked colors that change with the seasons or the time of day,” Yavachev said in a video interview.
Married artists (full names Christo Javchef and Jean-Claude de Guilbon) became internationally renowned for such ambitious projects as “The Pont Neuf Wrapped”, published in 1985, and “Wrapped Reichstag” in Berlin 10 years later.
They also used textiles to transform the natural world – everything from the 18,600-square-metre (200,000 sq ft) orange curtains hung between two mountain slopes in Colorado to a chain of islands near Miami clad in bubblegum pink fabric. A series of thousands of saffron-paneled gateways in New York’s Central Park, unveiled in 2005, was the last project they completed together before Jean-Claude suffered a fatal brain aneurysm.
Christo and Jean-Claude wrap The Pont Neuf in Paris in 1985. Together, they used textiles to transform different environments and disrupt everyday mass. Credit: Wolfgang Volz / Courtesy Christo and Jean-Claude Foundation
The creation of “L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped”, Yavachev said, took about 12 weeks of work involving almost 24 hours, a much more intense process than people might have imagined.
“It’s a perception of a lot of people that we go there (at the Arc de Triomphe), throw on some clothes and put on some ropes[on it]and that’s it.” “But that’s not the case at all.”
Christo and Jean Claude designed installations that could take decades to complete, requiring extensive permit approvals, legal hurdles, and frequent environmental impact tests. (Some of the artists’ rejected or abandoned projects include wrapping the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, as well as suspending fabric about 6 miles above the Arkansas River in Colorado.)
Christo and Jean-Claude’s projects included hanging a curtain on two mountain slopes in Rifle, Colorado. Credit: Wolfgang Volz / Christo and Jean-Claude Foundation
“I am an artist who is completely irrational, completely irresponsible, completely independent,” Christo said. “No one needs my projects,” he said. “The world can live without these projects. But I need them and my friends.”
Anne Bergertz, an engineer on the project, said her team’s first task was to explain the final look that Christo wanted. “In his drawings, you can see that the figure is not 100% Arc de Triomphe,” she said in a video interview. “It’s very boxy, it has vertical lines, while the Arc de Triomphe on the cornice, for example, has a very pointed shape.”
They also had to determine how to prevent the wind from stretching the fabric, while keeping it resilient to the elements. “(Christo) was also very fond of how he imagined the clothes would come alive with the wind,” she said.
Although machinery and advanced technology were used in the planning and installation of the protective steel beam, a team of climbers did the wrapping. Credit: Wolfgang Volz / Courtesy Christo and Jean-Claude Foundation
But, more importantly, Berghartz’s team had to protect the monument and all of its ornamentation with sculpted sculptures on each side of the entrance to the complex cornice. Although engineers were allowed to drill some holes in the landmark, they had to minimize the damage. Therefore, he installed wooden panels between the steel and the concrete of the arch to protect it from scratches and built frameworks around its sculptures to protect them.
“Some statues have wings, they have swords, they have trumpets,” Burgertz said. “So we built these cages around the statues to protect them from fabric, from climbers and from construction site work.”
To help build the exterior structure, technicians used laser technology to survey the monument. The entire Arc de Triomphe was scanned by a drone, producing accurate high-resolution images for the engineering team.
It took about three months for the work on the site to be completed. Credit: Wolfgang Volz / Courtesy Christo and Jean-Claude Foundation
“For Christo, the most important thing was freedom,” said Yavachev. “He and Jean-Claude did not want to give up[their]independence by accepting a grant or funding or sponsorship from someone else.”
“The London Mastaba” on Serpentine Lake was a smaller version of Christo and Jean-Claude’s final, posthumous project, to be built in Abu Dhabi. Credit: Wolfgang Volz / Christo and Jean-Claude Foundation
This posthumous installation will be one of the late artists’ final acts, but they have at least one more accomplishment in store: the creation of the world’s largest sculpture. Conceived in 1977 and inspired by the architecture of ancient Egyptian tombs, the Mastaba will be made of 410,000 multi-colored barrels in the Abu Dhabi desert. This is a massive version of the last artwork executed during his lifetime, a colorful mastaba sculpture in London’s Serpentine Lake in 2018. The Abu Dhabi installation will be the last major work the artist team has the blueprint for, according to Yavachev.
“It may take another five years, it may take another 10 years. I don’t know,” Yavachev said. “But I believe we will get it done.”
Video above by CNN’s Saskia Vandoorne, Angelica Pursley, Mark Asplin, Sofia Cusaro and Joseph Atman.