Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped (Christo + Jeanne-Claude)
As I stood at the roundabout at Étoile I watched the light change against the Arc de Triomphe. I couldn’t help ponder how in the world does someone come up with an idea like this. Sure, we all can have ideas, but then do actually go through with it—that’s a whole other level! The best answer I could come up with is you follow your intuition, as crazy as it may seem at times. And you go for it despite what everyone else says is possible. And you have lots of patience.
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Back in 1962 artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude had an idea to wrap the Arc de Triomphe in fabric. It sounds like a crazy idea, but wrapping things—from paintings to shopping carts to buildings—was something the artists were already exploring. (Here are a few shots from their retrospective at the Pompidou two summers ago.) It’s now 2021. That was a 60 year wait!! Patience is golden!
In a world of instant gratification sometimes we forget that the best things in life don’t happen overnight, but can be a gradual slow build. And when it comes to wrapping a historic monument in fabric, it’s not just the idea that needs to come to fruition, but also the permits. (When the artists wrapped Pont Neuf—the oldest bridge in Paris—in 1985 it took 10 years to acquire the permits.)
I also learned that this work is considered “process art” where the installation and de-installation are all part of the work. (The NYT shared a lot of install images—there were mountain climbers from Chamonix who repelled off of the Arc.) Above you can see the metal casing that protects the monument and sculptures.
The wrapping of the Arc de Triomphe, the monument that sits atop the famous Avenue Champs Elysées, was set to happen in 2020 and was delayed for obvious reasons. Shortly thereafter Christo passed away, never to witness his final project with his own eyes (his wife and creative partner Jeanne-Claude passed away several years ago). I can only assume this will be the last of its kind.
You are able to go up and touch the work (after getting your Pass Sanitaire checked to enter the underground walkway to the Arc.) It’s a thick material. Blue on one side, silver on the other—an homage to France’s bleu, blanc, et rouge along with the red ropes. The people with the blue vests will give you a free square of it if you ask them. They also are full of facts. Apparently, the fabric weighs the same as 18 elephants! It is heavy! Also, the plan is to recycle it as building insulation at the end of the project.
Someone was clever and wrapped a street sign in honor of the occasion.
The two-week installation which cost $14 million (entirely self-financed by the artist), is on now and is quite the sight to behold. The best way I can describe it is that the classic monument is engulfed like a cocoon ready for transformation, and resembles a gem that is uniquely beautiful. There’s a total wow factor. At the time of this post I’ve now been four times: up the Arc (less exciting as the action is on the ground), on the weekend when the traffic circle was closed to traffic and we could walk across, at night (the “evening wear edition”–wow does she shine; see the Instagram reel below!), and then for sunset where I stood in one spot and watched the light change (top image). I keep getting pulled back. It’s a fascinating sight.
One of the reasons I love Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s work is that you know that so many people told them no and it wasn’t possible along the way, but they kept doing it anyway, and they kept pushing the boundary of how out there they could go. It took 60 years, but it’s quite a sight now that it’s come to life. The sixteen-day installation ends October 3rd.
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There’s so much digging you can do into Christo and Jean-Claude’s works from their official website, The NYTimes (cool installation shots), Dezeen, The Washington Post (potential pay wall). It’s a fascinating rabbit hole to fall down. If you ever have the chance to see a retrospective, I highly recommend it. I’ve now seen them in Miami and Paris, each show is an incredible look at the making of process of how it comes together, which include everything from sketches, to permits, and models, along as process photos of the installations.
UPDATE: On a whim I decided to visit the Arc the day after the “event” ended. Much to my delight, I got to watch it get unwrapped and to watch the mountain climbers work together to undo everything. It was methodical and involved splitting the fabric into sections that were then wrapped like curtains. I didn’t see it until the very end, but it was enough to truly experience this “process art” in action.
P.S. Friendly reminder that Mapping Your Path into 2021 is now open for enrollment and starts off THIS WEEK (enrollment closes Friday, Oct 8th). Mapping Your Path into 2022 is the place where you can connect with yourself and with others as you navigate your path into the new year—and beyond. The experience is semi-structured, where workshops are recorded if you can’t join live, and the community is a place you can turn with questions, share inspiration, or learn something new from someone else. It’s a magical place with compassion and support at its core! Perfect too if you love maps! UPDATE: Enrollment is now closed. Sign up to be notified of the next session.
You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You don’t even have to know where you’re going. (I suspect you know where you don’t want to be though.). What if you gave yourself permission to explore, reflect, and be intentional about what’s next? You don’t have to do it alone, you’ll be guided every step of the way. Click here to learn more.