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The unveiling of the veiling of the Arc de Triomphe drew crowds of event lovers this past weekend in shimmering Indian summer sun. And light, as visitors learn in looking at the draped monument, is an important factor in the design created by Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude in 1962.
Now, 60 years later, their plans have become a luminous reality, as the couple wanted their installations to be implemented by their team after they died. Jeanne-Claude died in 2009, and Christo died in 2020, just before the original installation was scheduled.
The recyclable silver/blue material takes on the colors and tones of the surrounding environment, as well as the light and shadow effects of the sculptural draping. It simplifies the form of the Arc de Triomphe and covers its intricate carvings. In so doing, this artistic adventure transforms the familiar historic symbol into something to be seen very differently, if only for 16 days.
“It will be like a living object that will move in the wind and reflect the light. With its moving folds, the monument’s surface will become sensual. People will want to touch the Arc de Triomphe.” (Christo)
The best view is one of personal taste — perhaps at a distance from the Avenue de Champs Elysées or the Avenue de la Grande Armée, or perhaps close up, where the intimate details of silver/blue polypropylene and red rope — and the many different viewing perspectives — become works of art in their own right.
The work is alive … and open to all. Artistic freedom at its best.
This is not the first Christo public installation in Paris. Longtimers might remember the wrapping of the Pont Neuf (completed in 1985). But there have been many more, as Christo and Jeanne-Claude lived in Paris in their early creative days — The Wall of Oil Barrels (1961-62), The Iron Curtain (1962), Wrapped Statue at Trocadéro (1964), and Wrapped Staircase, Rue de Paradis (1972).
Projects in other countries have also gained acclaim — The Running Fence in northern California (1976), The Umbrellas in southern California and Japan (1991), The Wrapped Berlin Reichstag (1995), The Gates in New York City’s Central Park (2005), The Floating Piers in Italy (2016), and the London Mastaba made of stacked barrels (2018).
All projects have been fully financed by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The Wrapping of the Arc de Triomphe is estimated to cost 14M euros, with more than 1000 people employed on the project. Guides from around the world gather in the space around the Arc to answer questions and provide tiny square samples of the draping material.
The installation involved experts from many fields, and went right to the wire, with some rainy days causing delays. Right on schedule, though, the cranes disappeared in the dark of night, leaving the wrapping to meet the Saturday sunrise in all its glory.
Like all art and architecture in Paris, this work, too, is subject to controversy and varying opinions. However, it is here for 16 days and shouldn’t be missed, especially in the shimmering light.
Visit the Place de l’Étoile any time of the day or night, but make a reservation with the Centre des Monuments Nationaux if you want to climb the spiral stairs to the top of the Arc for an expansive view of Paris and a walk around the unique draping of the rooftop terrasse.
Sunrise can be beautiful, with warm colors dancing on the silver material. And weekends are free from traffic around the Arc, so you can walk where you like. The installation will be in place until Sunday, October 3.
Lead photo credit : The Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped. © Meredith Mullins