Everyone knows Paris is the city of love, which in turn makes it the city of thoughtful gifts. This week, late-artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude have gift-wrapped the Arc de Triomphe, as their final offering to the people of France’s capital city, right in the heart of Champs-Élysées.
The artistic installation was a “life-long dream” of the partners Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who first imagined the project, L’Arc de Triomphe Wrapped, all the way back in 1961. The couple has made a name for themselves wrapping other culturally significant sites up in fabric, including the Reichstag and the waters around an Italian lake.
But what was it about wrapping polypropylene fabric around different buildings and landscapes that was so appealing to Christo and Jeanne-Claude? As it turns out, it’s less about the fabric and more about how the fabric represents the wholly nomadic communities of times past.
“You see a giant empty plain. Then a nomadic tribe arrives, builds an entire town of fabric, lives there a few weeks, and one day they fold all their fabric tents and are gone. And what remains? A vast empty plain. The nomads are gone,” said Jeanne-Claude on the concept. If towns containing thousands of people can be constructed in a matter of days, only to completely disappear when the tribe moves on, why can’t a 50m tall stone archway do the same?
It is to imagine the ephemeral changes that have always occurred to landscapes, but are invisible once they take place. As said by art historian Lorenza Giovanelli, it is “impossible to look with the same eyes at the places these projects once inhabited, because something happened there, even if the plain lies empty.”
While neither Christo nor Jeanne-Claude was able to see L’Arc de Triomphe Wrapped come to life before they passed away, the historic work has finally been completed after work began on it 2017. L’Arc de Triomphe Wrapped will be on display from September 18th till October 4th, before the 25,000 square metres of fabric, and 3,000 metres of contrasting red rope will be taken down.