Arc de Triomphe, UNwrapped: a design lens on the silver tapestry that spellbound Paris

As Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s ‘L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped’ comes down, STIR speaks with creatives Yves Béhar and Sandeep & Tania Khosla on their experience of the artwork.

by Anmol AhujaPublished on : Oct 08, 2021

For nearly two weeks, the entire city of Paris, along with a number of patrons from across the world, came together to celebrate the legacy of the inimitable Christo Vladimirov Javacheff and Jeanne-Claude: artists whose works deferred containment on canvases any less than monumental. The Arc de Triomphe, already a geographic focal point for the city, transformed into a magnetic one, as its physical features, its austentations, gave way to a seamless fabric wrapping its surfaces. As the installation remained open to all with zero visiting fees, thousands of patrons flocked to the Arc: for a fortnight, it did seem like public art, on that scale, it brought people together in a world only slowly emerging from the impacts of the pandemic.

  • Thousands of people from Paris and across the world gathered to view Christo’s legacy, an artwork sixty years in the making | Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped | Christo and Jeanne-Claude | STIRworld
    Thousands of people from Paris and across the world gathered to view Christo’s legacy, an artwork sixty years in the making Image: Benjamin Loyseau, © 2021 Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation
  • Public art seemed to bring people closer in a post-pandemic world | Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped | Christo and Jeanne-Claude | STIRworld
    Public art seemed to bring people closer in a post-pandemic world Image: Benjamin Loyseau, © 2021 Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation
  • 01 min watch Time lapse of the Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, showing the movement of the sun being reflected across the drapes of the monument | Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped | Christo and Jeanne-Claude | STIRworld
    Time lapse of the Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, showing the movement of the sun being reflected across the drapes of the monument Video: Courtesy of Centre des monuments nationaux / Perle Productions, © 2021 Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation
  • Time lapse of the Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, showing the movement of the sun being reflected across the drapes of the monuments | Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped | Christo and Jeanne-Claude | STIRworld
    View of the installation at night Image: Benjamin Loyseau, © 2021 Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation

Nearly six decades in the works, the posthumous artwork sought to wrap the eponymous monument in 25,000 square meters of recyclable silvery blue polypropylene fabric and 3,000 meters of recyclable red polypropylene rope, adding a new layer of fluid tactility to the war memorial. In Christo’s own words, the Arc became a “living object”, which moved in the wind and reflected the light; its unyielding solidity in limestone and cobble giving way to a rather free-spirited texture that sways in the breeze, depresses where people hug its lower planes, and gains an entirely new form with every touch of the hand. In essence, Christo and Jeanne-Claude made the ‘cladding’ of the Arc an anamorphic one: continually morphing into a new envelope every instance. “With its moving folds, the monument’s surface will become sensual. People will want to touch the Arc de Triomphe,” Christo said. And that, they did. Through the basal act of wrapping it in fabric, an already monumental structure was made to assume even greater proportions. Seldom has an act of cloaking revealed something anew, and seldom has the cloak been this ephemeral, at least in visual memory.

  • L'Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, Drawing 2020 in two parts: Pencil, charcoal, pastel, wax crayon, enamel paint, map, and fabric sample  | Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped | Christo and Jeanne-Claude | STIRworld
    L'Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, Drawing 2020 in two parts: Pencil, charcoal, pastel, wax crayon, enamel paint, map, and fabric sample Image: André Grossmann, © 2020 Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation
  • Fabric panels being unfurled in front of the outer walls of the Arc de Triomphe | Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped | Christo and Jeanne-Claude | STIRworld
    Fabric panels being unfurled in front of the outer walls of the Arc de Triomphe Image: Wolfgang Volz, © 2021 Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation
  • Fabric panels being put in place and secured on the roof of the Arc de Triomphe | Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped | Christo and Jeanne-Claude | STIRworld
    Fabric panels being put in place and secured on the roof of the Arc de Triomphe Image: Lubri, © 2021 Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation

Prominent Indian architect and designer, Sandeep Khosla, founder and principal at Khosla Associates, was also among the design professionals who made their way to Paris to view Christo’s glory and sheen. The trip, for him, was worth it, as the architect returned overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the installation. On his first impressions, he stated, “When I first looked at Christo and Jeanne-Claude's wrap of the Arc de Triomphe from across the street, it felt mysterious and fascinating. When I got closer to it, under and around the installation, the details revealed themselves quite beautifully. You were encouraged to touch the folds of the two tone silver and blue polypropylene fabric, which was quite a tactile experience. And you could really marvel at the detail of the thousands of meters of red rope tying it all together”. Summing up his visit on the weekend of the installation’s opening to the public, Khosla reminisced, “We started our experience on a cloudy day, but soon, as the sun broke through the clouds, the entire installation started shimmering quite magically.”

The details revealed themselves quite beautifully. You were encouraged to touch the folds of the two tone silver and blue polypropylene fabric. – Sandeep Khosla
  • Visitors were encouraged to touch the installation’s fabric and experience its tactility | Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped | Christo and Jeanne-Claude | STIRworld
    Visitors were encouraged to touch the installation’s fabric and experience its tactility Image: André Grossmann, © 2021 Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation
  • The fabric transforms the monument into a continually morphing structure, depressing with each touch and transforming every instance | Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped | Christo and Jeanne-Claude | STIRworld
    The fabric transforms the monument into a continually morphing structure, depressing with each touch and transforming every instance Image: Lubri, © 2021 Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation

Accompanying him was Tania Singh Khosla, founder and design director at tsk design, who too returned quite dazzled by the experience. In her opinion, no matter how many images she had seen of the installation already, nothing had quite prepared her for the final viewing of it. “From a distance, the experience is exciting because of the enigma and the monumentality of it: the juxtaposition of this enormous sheath of silver, against the crazy Paris traffic. Your interaction with the installation is also quite performative, as everyone’s just trying to get the best picture against it. But it’s when you are up close that you are drawn in and the magic unfolds,” stated Tania, on how the installation truly came alive for her as she moved closer to the Arc, being able to fathom the scale of it all, with respect to the human stature. Continuing her experiential narrative, she added, “What I loved was the contrast between the sculptural sensuality of the folds of the fabric, and the sheer solidity of the form that it wraps. And then the bright red rope, that almost brutally grips and binds the fabric down. As you gaze up on a bright sunny day, the metallic fabric reflects the shifting sunlight leaving you, like I said, awed and quite dazzled”.

What I loved was the contrast between the sculptural sensuality of the folds of the fabric, and the sheer solidity of the form that it wraps. And then the bright red rope, that almost brutally grips and binds the fabric down. – Tania Singh Khosla
  • Sandeep and Tania Khosla | Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped | Christo and Jeanne-Claude | STIRworld
    Sandeep and Tania Khosla Image: Courtesy of Sandeep and Tania Khosla
  • 01 min watch The textile facade of Wrapped sways in the wind, giving it a rather fluid look and feel | Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped | Christo and Jeanne-Claude | STIRworld
    The textile facade of Wrapped sways in the wind, giving it a rather fluid look and feel Video: Courtesy of Sandeep and Tania Khosla
  • 01 min watch Sandeep believes that the details of the installation and its folds made themselves visible as one moved closer to the installation, and under it | Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped | Christo and Jeanne-Claude | STIRworld
    Sandeep believes that the details of the installation and its folds made themselves visible as one moved closer to the installation, and under it Video: Courtesy of Sandeep and Tania Khosla
  • Tania Singh Khosla, an Indian graphic and communication designer, felt that the bright red rope ‘brutally’ held everything in place | Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped | Christo and Jeanne-Claude | STIRworld
    Tania Singh Khosla, an Indian graphic and communication designer, felt that the bright red rope ‘brutally’ held everything in place Image: Courtesy of Sandeep and Tania Khosla

World renowned Swiss designer, Yves Béhar, who happened to be in Paris for the closing weekend of L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, interacted with STIR on the evocative installation, and what it perceptibly meant for Parisians as the show drew to a close. Lending a designer’s perspective to view a work of art, Béhar’s first impression was to compare Wrapped to an ‘object’; its form stripped of detail and made to look minimal and modern, as if almost to derive product-like utility from it. Commenting on the powerful nature of public art, he also stated how personally impressed he was to see the large crowd gathered on the Champs-Élysées, and how the installation art brought “a new perspective to places we take for granted”.

  • The Arc de Triomphe with the structural members in place, the night before being wrapped | Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped | Christo and Jeanne-Claude | STIRworld
    The Arc de Triomphe with the structural members in place, the night before being wrapped Image: Courtesy of Rooshad Shroff
  • The polypropylene fabric sheets suspended from the roof of the Arc | Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped | Christo and Jeanne-Claude | STIRworld
    The polypropylene fabric sheets suspended from the roof of the Arc Image: Courtesy of Rooshad Shroff

Seeing Wrapped on its final day, as opposed to Khosla’s voyage there on the first weekend of the installation’s display also lent Béhar a different perspective when it came to the realm of public art. “There were 10000 people or more funneled into the immediate vicinity, and an efficient security perimeter where vaccines were checked. It felt like a civic gesture for Parisians and for the world, a generous act of art which the people took to heart and visibly loved,” mentioned Béhar on the evident impact Christo’s warped textile edifice had on visitors during its final show. On being enquired about his favourite part of the installation, the Swiss designer responded saying what he loved most was the “simplicity of the wrapping and the shimmering materials used. The scale and effect of each element was really perfect”.

  • Swiss designer Yves Béhar | Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped | Christo and Jeanne-Claude | STIRworld
    Swiss designer Yves Béhar Image: Courtesy of Yves Béhar
  • The polypropylene fabric sheets suspended from the roof of the Arc | Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped | Christo and Jeanne-Claude | STIRworld
    Béhar visited the installation and monument on Sunday, when the Arc de Triomphe flame is traditionally lit followed by a ceremonial parade Image: Courtesy of Yves Béhar
  • 01 min watch The ceremonial parade commemorating the soldiers of World War I on the last day of the installation | Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped | Christo and Jeanne-Claude | STIRworld
    The ceremonial parade commemorating the soldiers of World War I on the last day of the installation Video: Courtesy of Yves Béhar

An abundance of thoughts came over Behar when asked about his interpretation of the monotone surfaces over the monument, and the incredible connection they bore to French history. “On the last day, a Sunday when the Arc de Triomphe flame is traditionally lit, there was an enhanced military parade commemorating the 1.4 million French soldiers killed in World War I. After reflection, I think the artists may have intended to strip the monument of its meaning, its reference to war and the celebration that comes with it, even in mourning. That symbolism may be one of the reasons the project took 60 years to be approved and built! And, of course, there is a bit of sadness to think that neither Jeanne-Claude who passed away in 2009, nor Christo saw their creation change Paris for two weeks. It also made me reflect on the power of public art, how it galvanised a community, city and country, and how sadly we have so little of that in the US,” said Behar, in his trademark style of storytelling, as if narrating an odyssey.

I think the artists may have intended to strip the monument of its meaning, its reference to war and the celebration that comes with it, even in mourning. – Yves Béhar
  • Christo and Jeanne-Claude at The Gates, New York City, February 2005 | Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped | Christo and Jeanne-Claude | STIRworld
    Christo and Jeanne-Claude at The Gates, New York City, February 2005 Image: Wolfgang Volz, © 2021 Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation

Through the remainder of the month, until November 10, 2021, ‘L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped’ will continue to be uninstalled, as all the material utilised in its realisation will go on to attain new life, being reused, recycled, and upcycled. The monument and the sacrosanct activities associated with it, including the burning of the Eternal Flame in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the daily ceremony of rekindling it, will go on the way they did as the humongous public installation breathed. Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s ephemeral art makes its final stop in the form of Mastaba in the UAE.

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