This week marked the completion of the dismantling of the last Christo and Jeanne-Claude‘s temporal artwork, their posthumous gift to humanity in general, and Paris in particular— L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, Paris 1961-2021. The work, dubbed as a “final, temporary work,” was conceived by the art couple in Paris in 1962, three years after Christo and Jeanne-Claude met, and completed, posthumously, on September 18, 2021.
The artwork has transformed Napoleon Bonaparte’s monument to his imperial troops and, by extension, one of the vital parts of the city center— the arch, at the Place de l’Étoile, is at the intersection of twelve avenues, one of which, Champs-Elysées, was closed for auto-traffic on the weekends.
The wrapping, the first project completed without Christo, was realized by Christo’s team headed by Vladimir Yavachev, the project’s director and the couple’s nephew, in partnership with the Center des monuments nationaux (CMN) and with support from Centre Pompidou. The artwork, constructed according to Christo’s design, required 25,000 square meters of recyclable fabric and 3,000 meters of recyclable red rope. The project employed 1,200 people, including manufactures, engineers, and building contractors. Viewing was free and accessible to the public; no tickets or reservations were required to view and touch the temporary work of art, selfie sticks, however, were banned.
According to the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau, L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped was visited by an estimated 6 million Parisians and visitors from around the world. A sign of hope too, perhaps, as in, hello, ‘old normal’?
I was one of those visitors; seeing the renowned symbol of Napoleon’s megalomania from a distance, over the expanse of Champs-Elysées packed with crowds, was akin to seeing its familiar outline for the first time, a one-of-a-kind experience. The monument, shrouded in silvery blue fabric, seemed larger, and paradoxically, more significant than in its usual state — with the semi-allegorical sculptures of military paraphernalia exposed.
The effect was also somewhat spectral — presumably, by design: the paint that coats the exterior fabric was to peel away over the course of the installation, bringing into focus the transient nature of any human enterprise, no matter how grand.
L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, its temporality contrasted with its magnificent scale and with The Eternal Flame, in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, embodied both, a glorious homage to Christo and Jeanne-Claude and a testimony to the artistic duo’s brilliance.