Christo wrap makeover begins on Paris's Arc de Triomphe

A 16-day exhibition will be unveiled on September 18 in the French capital

Christo in his studio in 2019 with a preparatory drawing for 'L'Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped'. Estate of Christo V Javacheff
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Work began on Friday on the wrapping of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris in silvery-blue fabric as a posthumous tribute to the artist Christo, who had dreamt of the project for decades.

Bulgarian-born Christo Vladimirov Javacheff, a long-time Paris resident, had plans for sheathing the imposing war memorial at the top of the Champs-Elysees while renting an apartment near it in the 1960s.

But despite completing other major public works during his lifetime, including wrapping Paris's oldest bridge in 1985 and the German parliament in 1995, the Arc de Triomphe project never materialised before his death in 2020.

Christo in his studio working on a preparatory drawing for his 'L'Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped'. New York City, 2020. Estate of Christo V Javacheff

The completion of his vision, and that of his co-designer and wife, Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon, will be overseen by his nephew, Vladimir Javacheff, in co-ordination with the Pompidou museum and French authorities.

Financing is coming through the sale of Christo's studies, drawings and collages, with no public money being used, organisers said.

"Set-up for 'L'Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped' begins!" said a statement on the official Twitter account dedicated to the work and legacy of the two artists, known together as Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

The project will have the monument swathed in more than 25,000 square metres of fabric.

"It will be like a living object stimulated by the wind and reflecting the light. The folds will move and the monument's surface will become sensual," Christo once said of his idea, for which he left sketches and photo montages.

"People are going to want to touch the Arc de Triomphe," he said.

A 2019 drawing in two parts of 'L'Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped', in pencil, charcoal, pastel, wax crayon and enamel paint, and featuring a map and fabric sample. Estate of Christo V Javacheff

The work, starting on Friday, will involve preparations for the scaffolding and protective equipment that will be erected to prevent any damage to the stonework and sculptures during the wrapping process.

The monument, which was built by Napoleon to commemorate fallen soldiers during his military campaigns, has been recently restored after being defaced by anti-government "yellow vest" rioters in December 2018.

Round the clock

After a pause for the conclusion of the Tour de France cycling race that goes past the arch on Sunday, July 18, wrapping work will begin in earnest for the rest of July and August in order to hit a target date for the inauguration on Saturday, September 18.

"Three teams will work around the clock to complete it," Javacheff said.

The Arc de Triomphe in Paris Unsplash / Stephan Louis

The spectacular wrapping will stay in place until Sunday, October 3, and, unlike the lengthy set-up, the dismantling will need only six days, Javacheff said.

As well as the polypropylene fabric, the project will use 3,000 metres of red rope, all of which can be recycled.

Born on June 13, 1935, in Bulgaria, Christo left his country in 1957, living in several nations before arriving in Paris, where he met Jeanne-Claude.

He died of natural causes at his home in New York in May last year.

The Arc de Triomphe, with the flame at the tomb of the unknown soldier still alight, will be accessible throughout the 16-day exhibition.

Updated: July 16, 2021, 1:05 PM