A few days ago, Parisians woke up to see the iconic Arc de Triomphe fully covered with a silver-blue cloth. Something had happened to it? Is it under restoration, perhaps?
Well, not really. This is an artwork planned originally by the late artist Christo. It was finally made after more than 60 years of planning. Although the mastermind is no longer with us to see his work, his legacy remains.
Who is Christo?
Christo Vladimirov Javacheff, better known as Christo, was a Bulgarian artist who was always in love with Paris who always had a dream in mind: to cover the Arc de Triomphe with a blanket.
Together with his wife Jeanne-Claude, Christo wanted to create something to remind the people of Paris how incredible the monument was, and what better way to do it than to cover it completely. Suddenly, something that was always there as part of their daily lives became a completely different space.
For decades the couple fought fiercely to get permission to carry out their work, and it was Christo’s nephew Vladimir Yavachev who was finally able to get it two years ago.
Unfortunately, the work was delayed twice. It was first delayed because there was a nest of hawks on the facade of the arch that had to be dealt with in a responsible way, which takes time. The second time was because of the pandemic.
These delays did not allow Christo to see his work completed during his lifetime, as a year ago the artist passed away. However, this was only further motivation for his nephew Yavachev, along with his team. Today the Arc de Triomphe is seen as Christo’s victory to be admired all day long.
‘L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped’
As with any work of art, the reactions have been diverse. Some have praised the concept and celebrated Christo’s achievement, and some others despise it and even compare it to garbage.
The second is the case of Florina Philippot, a right-wing politician, who considers that the fabric is nothing more than a garbage bag covering one of the most emblematic monuments in Europe. Likewise, Carlo Ratti published in the newspaper Le Monde his questioning of the environmental impact that this work may have.
On the other hand, many defend the intervention: to Ratti’s questioning, Yavachev quickly informed that almost all the material used is recycled; the work has also received praise from President Macron, who pronounced that “crazy dreams must be possible.”
The Parisian opinion is divided on the matter, but we cannot deny that Christo’s mission was accomplished: to remind Parisians of the magnificence of the arch, either because its beauty was covered and missed, or because it was dressed in a new aesthetic that draws us back to it.
Remembering Christo in an ephemeral way
Christo’s works were always disruptive in public space. In 1985, Christo wrapped the Pont Neuf in a very similar fashion as the Arc de Triomphe.
But in addition to modifying the public space, the distinguishing feature of his work was how ephemeral it sought to be, lasting just two weeks on its feet. There is a certain beauty in that as if it were art that you can only experience once in a lifetime.
In addition to being self-funded, the Arc de Triomphe’s cladding is limited, lasting only a few weeks. But that’s the way Christo would have wanted it, and even though the canvas will be soon removed, Christo and his nephew Yavachev will go down in history as the ones who covered the monumental arch.
Currently, the street where the arch is located is closed to vehicular traffic so that both tourists and Parisians can enjoy it without worrying about traffic. It is a bit far to walk around, but the event has already been immortalized in history.
Images from El Universal, The New York Times
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards