Wrapped Arc de Triomphe in Paris
Photo: Siegfried Modola / Getty Images
Vladimir Javacheff looks tired and is hoarse. The 48-year-old nephew of the Bulgarian-American artist Christo is sitting on the narrow Parisian balcony of his office on the avenue de la Grande Armée on the sixth floor, a paper cup with espresso in one hand and a cell phone in the other. If he looks to the left, he can see the nearby Arc de Triomphe, a third of which shimmers under silver-blue fabric on this Monday evening.
The day before, 140 employees of the Christo team and 90 professional climbers had started at 6 a.m. to throw huge lengths of fabric from the 50-meter-high national monument. Javacheff gave instructions for hours, called and screamed, so now he has no voice. He did everything that Christ would have done otherwise. There is always that one magical moment in every Christo project, says Javacheff, when what has only been seen on sketches for years suddenly takes shape.
“It was the most moving day so far,” he says, “and everyone here was aware of that, the workers, the team members. At some point in the afternoon we offered the men to go home, but they wanted to continue working until it got dark «. Then they went to party, a little melancholy. "I miss Christ," says Javacheff, "his enthusiasm, his critical faculties, his energy, even his way of shouting."
Javacheff had worked with his uncle since he was 17 years old. He knows the endlessly long preparations for his projects, the adversities of a construction site, the artist's obsession with detail. Since Christo's death in May 2020, he has now carried out the last projects for him. He moved from New York to Paris to cover the triumphal arch because he thought it was impossible to control such a company via emails and phone calls.
It is rather rare that a work of art is only created 60 years after the first sketches. It is even rarer that it is only realized after the artist's death. On this Saturday, after decades of planning, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, veiled according to designs by Christo, will open. It will be open to the public for three weeks, until October 3rd, nobody has to pay admission for it. This work of art has no owner, says Javacheff, everyone should have fun with it, that was always the leitmotif of his uncle and his wife Jeanne-Claude, who died in 2009.
Until the end, Christo had worked on the final details for the project.
Shortly before his death, he made a promise to his nephew: "He kept saying to me, promise me that you will finish this, no matter what happens, promise me."
All the details of the wrapping were already fixed at the time: Christo had been choosing the fabric for a long time, as well as the thick red cords that hold the whole thing together.
Both were produced by German companies.
In 2019, he and his team carried out a test on a scale model in a suburb of Paris.
Because originally the triumphal arch was supposed to be covered in September 2020, because of the pandemic the plan was postponed for a year.
14 million euros budget, 400 tons of steel
The monument is now covered by 25,000 square meters of recyclable polypropylene - twice as much material as the stone outer surfaces of the triumphal arch. This should be so so that the folds get a certain depth. In addition, that was also stated in the blueprint that Christo left for his nephew, the material had to move slightly in the wind. "That's how he wanted it, the bow should be brought back to life," says Javacheff.
It's a man possessed's project. The total budget for the wrapping is 14 million euros, like all other installations before, including the wrapping of the Berlin Reichstag, this was also financed in full by Christo and Jeanne Claude through the sale of sketches and drawings. Since July 15, three teams have been working in eight-hour shifts at the Arc-de-Triomphe: They installed elaborate steel cages on the facade to protect the four larger-than-life sculptures of the monument, and they built a second roof on the arch, because Christo wanted a straight line to the top. In total, they built 400 tons of steel on the monument.
The triumphal arch is not just any monument. More than the Eiffel Tower, more than the Louvre and Notre-Dame, the structure at the top of the Champs-Élysées is a stone reference point for the sensitivities of the nation, a place where people celebrate, protest, demonstrate and mourn. The annual military parade starts here on the national holiday on July 14th; On November 11th, the French President commemorates the dead of the two world wars under the triumphal arch. Until today, every evening at 6 p.m. at the grave of the unknown soldier below the arch, a symbolic flame is lit anew. Veterans in uniform then sing the Marseillaise. During the wrapping, climbers and engineers interrupted their work from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. so as not to disrupt the ceremony.
When the French won the football world championship in 2018, the national team's bus started from here, and when the yellow vests took to the streets against the government in the winter of the same year, they let out their anger on the monument, stormed the inside of the arch, and sprayed Anti-Macron graffiti on the sandstone facade and caused millions in damage.
more on the subject
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On the death of Christ: Visible through coveringBy Arno Frank
Now a silver-blue robe with red cords was thrown over this stone colossus, the haute couture design by a Bulgarian artist for the French capital, in the national colors of the nation.
It is Christo's last gift to Paris, the city with which he felt deeply connected throughout his life because it was the city in which he discovered freedom.
Suddenly this place, blown over by traffic, where normally no Parisian would stop, from which every motorist wants to get down as quickly as possible, looks so completely different: The silver folds of the monument take the severity of the monument, it shines from afar, the hurrying Parisians suddenly stop, pause.
All of this may be thought of as useless, superfluous, perhaps even insane.
But it's beautiful.