The monumental feat of wrapping the Arc de Triomphe on 25,000 square meters of material and has begun the posthumous realization of a 60-year dream for the artist Christo.
As rolls of silver-blue recyclable fabric slowly descended from the top of the Paris landmark on Sunday morning, guided by rappels dressed in orange, there was enthusiasm, excitement and some nerves frayed by an operation that combined art and engineering to a great extent. scale. .
There was also sadness because the artists, Christo and his French wife, Jeanne-Claude, who had first imagined The Arc de Triomphe, Shrouded in 1962, while renting a small room nearby, they weren’t there to see it. Bulgarian-born Christo Vladimirov Yavachev died in May last year, while his wife and artistic partner, the couple worked together under the name Christo, died in 2009.
Christo, who wrapped the Reichstag in Berlin, left painstakingly detailed drawings and instructions covering all the visual and artistic aspects of how he wanted the wrapped bow to look.
“This is the vision of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. It is very important that we pay attention to every detail that Christo wanted, ”said the artist’s nephew, Vladimir Yavachev, who oversees the wrapping. “It was completely designed by Christo down to the last detail and we have to stick to that. If people come in and say it’s like the pictures, that means we’ve done a good job. “
Engineers and construction crews have been working around the clock since July to prepare the Arc de Triomphe, erecting scaffolding to keep the fabric off the monument’s stone. The actual wrapping began shortly after sunrise Sunday and was expected to take at least 24 hours. The fabric will be held in place by red laces.
Christo made a photomontage of what he wanted the wrapped bow to look like in the 1960s, but he never proposed to do so, assuming they would never get the necessary permission. The idea was revived in 2017 to coincide with an exhibition by Christo and has been approved by the Paris city authorities and the Center des Monuments nationaux, which oversees public monuments.
The € 14 million (£ 12 million) project has been fully funded through the sale of Christo’s project preparatory studies, drawings and collages, as well as scale models, works from the 1950s and 60 and original lithographs on other subjects. It has not received public funding.
It will officially open on September 18 and, like Christo’s other similar projects, will be temporary. Work will begin on October 3 to remove the wrapping in time for the Armistice Day ceremonies.
Christo studied in Sofia, but defected west in 1957, stowing away on a train from Prague to Vienna and from Geneva to Paris, where he met Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon. The couple moved to New York in 1964 and spent their first three years there as illegal immigrants.
Among Christo’s most famous works is the wrapping of the Pont-Neuf in Paris in 1985.
Yavachev added: “I was 17 when I started working with Christo, child labor you could say. I have been working on this project for four years.
“Right now we are concentrating on getting the job done and putting the feelings off for a bit later. It is a kind of therapy; you focus on something so as not to think about something else. The biggest challenge for me is that Christo is not here. I miss his enthusiasm, his criticism, his energy and that is the biggest challenge for me ”.
He added: “One very important thing is that people can come and walk around the Arc de Triomphe and touch the material. It is a work of art that is alive, moving with the wind ”.
When asked what all this meant, he replied: “Christo and Jeanne-Claude believed that their work was ultimately about freedom. No one could own this work of art, not even them. Everyone could have their own meaning and each meaning was important and correct. “
In an interview shortly before his death, Christo said He had 18 months to work out the details of the Arc de Triomphe project, compared to 25 years for the Reichstag and 26 years for The Gates in Central Park.
He said that he had been invited to do “something” outside the Pompidou Center to coincide with his exhibition, but had told the museum: “I will never do anything here. If I do something, it will be to wrap the Arc de Triomphe, but nothing more ”.
“The packaging for the Arc de Triomphe is quite special,” he said. “Everything came together suddenly. The proposal dates back to 1962, of course, but the authorization was suddenly granted.
“In the 1960s I made several plans that we sold to finance other projects. In the late 80s I even did a very elaborate collage edit with fabric; We thought at the time that the Arc de Triomphe project would never see the light of day. It’s honestly weird how suddenly it all came together. “
He added: “I never thought it would happen… But I want you to know that many of these projects can be built without me. Everything is already written. “
Mike Schlaich from the German engineering company SBP told reporters: “We are very proud to be a member of the team to fulfill Christo’s dream. It is a wonderful thing, a wonderful work of art. This is exactly how Christo wanted it. The engineers had to learn the language of the artists ”.
Vince Davenport, one of Christo’s engineering consultants, who worked with him for 35 years, said: “The particular challenge of any Christo project is that it is always the first time; it has never been done before and will never be done again. “
Her voice faltered when she added, “It’s very emotional. We just wish Christo was here to see it. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism