Updated: June 14, 2021 9:02:44 pm
The late artist Christo, who died last year at the age of 84, had intended to wrap Paris’s Arc de Triomphe in 25,000 square meters of fabric in September 2020.
Plans for the temporary artwork, officially titled L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, “were very advanced” before they were postponed as a result of the pandemic, says Vladimir Yavachev. He is the artist’s nephew and the project director for the Arc de Triomphe installation. “We were already sewing the fabric. Christo always wanted to have lots of folds, so we had to double the amount of fabric necessary to cover the arc.”
Because they were already halfway done with the silver-blue polypropylene fabric, even though the project was delayed until September 2021, organizers decided to finish the sewing in advance. Massive rolls of the completed material have since sat in a warehouse. “Almost like Champagne bottles, every few weeks we have to turn them,” Yavachev says. “We don’t want the weight of the roll to [damage] the fabric.”
Soon, the fabric will see the light of day. On Monday, organizers confirmed that the project, whose future has been uncertain during France’s extended lockdowns and curfews, will in fact be unveiled, as planned, on Sept. 18 and will remain up for 16 days, until Oct. 3.
“It will probably be one of the first big events” after the pandemic, says Yavachev. “That makes it exciting. People are hungry for culture, for museums, exhibitions, and to see works of art.”
Sixty years in the making
Christo, who died last May, had aspired to wrap the Arc de Triomphe in fabric since the early 1960s.
Even as the project remained unrealized, he—along with his wife and artistic collaborator Jeanne-Claude—managed to manifest a series of arguably more ambitious projects. They wrapped Paris’s Pont-Neuf in 41,800 square meters of fabric in 1985, Berlin’s Reichstag in 100,000 square meters of fabric in 1995, and more recently, created a three-kilometer floating walkway on an Italian lake in 2016. (Jeanne-Claude died in 2009.)
In each instance, the bureaucratic coordination, not to mention installation and de-installation, took years to plan.
The Arc de Triomphe, Yavachev says, is no different. Construction cannot begin, he says, until July 15, the day after Bastille Day celebrations, and the project has to be deinstalled in time for Armistice Day in November. “It’s a very tight schedule,” he says. “That’s why we’ll be working 24 hours a day—three crews in eight-hour shifts, for 12 weeks of construction.”
The construction entails a steel armature that will surround the arch, “we put it on the roof and corniches to project them and highlight the principal proportions of the arch—and hide its more baroque details,” he says. “That gives it a cleaner form.”
The application of the fabric, Yavachev continues, “happens fairly quickly” in just five or six days, once the rest of the substructure has been built. “The most attractive part is when we unroll the fabric and wrap the arc,” he says.
‘Some risk’ involved
The project, which was organized in partnership with the Centre des Musées Nationaux with the support of the city of Paris, will cost about €14 million ($17 million), Yavachev says, funded by the sale of Christo’s art.
“We have some works left that Christo made before he passed away,” Yavachev says. These include depictions of the Arc de Triomphe project, in addition to earlier, unrelated work that Christo made over the decades. Organizers will sell artworks to collectors directly, as well as via private sales at Sotheby’s, Yavachev says.
Given France’s ongoing curfews and the lingering uncertainty about future lockdowns, there was some concern that the project might not happen.
For his part, Yavachev says that he was always “quite confident” it would go ahead.
“Of course it’s a risk,” he says. “But with every project that Christo and Jeanne-Claude did, there was always some risk involved.”
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