Vacation in Paris Blog

It's A Wrap

Places To Visit - Posted on Aug 23,2021 by Hampton*Jan

Red tape. That’s what French bureaucracy is known for. But a pair of artists cut through it to win the right to use yards and yards of it – 3000 meters, to be exact - to wrap the Arc de Triomphe.

That red tape (actually it’s more like red rope) will hold more than 25,000 square meters of silvery blue recyclable polypropylene fabric around the national monument, making the Arc look like a giant Christmas present to the city of Paris posed at the top of the Champs-Elysées.

Christo, the artist who first conceived the wrapping, became fascinated by the Arc from the moment of his arrival in Paris in 1958. Then the idea of wrapping it began to take shape and remained in his mind, hovering just out of reach in his thoughts.

He began making studies of the Arc, doing photomontages and collages of the massive triumphal arch that occupies the center of the Etoile. Jeanne-Claude, his fellow artist and wife whom he met in Paris, felt the pull of his idea and joined in the planning of the project, working closely with him until her death in 2009.

Christo himself died in 2020 not long before work was scheduled to begin on the project. Then the Covid pandemic arrived and forced a postponement of the wrapping. But the team Christo assembled under the leadership of his nephew was determined to follow the wishes of the artist and carry out the plans he had drawn.

Jeanne-Claude and Christo had developed a working relationship with the City of Paris decades earlier when they wrapped the Pont Neuf in 1985. The success of that project helped them win the approval of the Centre des Monuments Nationaux, the City of Paris and the Centre Pompidou for this venture.

But wrapping the Arc is an entirely different challenge. Although the artists were always committed to environmentally safe procedures and products, the Arc presented new hurdles. There are four monumental sculptures that had to be protected from any damage, yet the shape had to be preserved to convey the sense of the Arc Christo envisioned even though it was under cover. As a result, he designed complicated “cages” to be fit around each sculpture to bear the weight of the fabric and yet be clear reminders of the works that are hidden beneath.

In addition, the artists were determined that the Eternal Flame over the tomb of the Unknown Soldier would continue throughout the work on the Arc, as would the daily ceremony honoring those who gave their lives for France. This has been successfully managed and the Flame and ceremony will remain uninterrupted during the time the Arc is covered and throughout the days of dismantling.

The biggest challenge, however, was always the one Christo and Jeanne-Claude set for themselves: funding the project with no government or public monies. Therefore the entire venture is to be financed by the sale of preparatory drawings, collages, lithographs and scale models Christo did of the completed wrapping.

The project opens – or should we say “closes”- September 18, with the Arc to stay under wraps until October 3. Then all the materials will be hauled away for recycling and the dream that Christo first had three quarters of a century ago, will have reached its completion.

A final goodnight for an artist of grand visions.

Photo ©Wolfgang Volz courtesy Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation

Our latest guest bloggers - Don and Petie Kladstrup

Don and Petie Kladstrup are authors of two best-selling books, the first being Wine and War: the French, the Nazis and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure, a best-seller that has been optioned for a motion picture. Their second book dealt with World War I: Champagne: How the World's Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times. Both books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Coming November 1st! Champagne Charlie: the Frenchman Who Taught America to Love Champagne

Don and Petie are former journalists. Don was a award-winning foreign correspondent for CBS and ABC Television News. Petie worked for several mid-western newspapers before serving as an assistant to the American ambassador to UNESCO in Paris. They are the parents of two daughters and have lived in Paris since 1978, splitting their time between the city and their country home in the south of France.

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