There are certain artworks which, however disconcerting their appearance, are still met with unconditional acclaim.
Cézanne, El Greco, Picasso
People never question El Greco’s elongated forms stretching up to the sky. Nor do they criticize the crooked tables in Paul Cézanne still lifes, or Picasso’s square, multifaceted figures. It is what it is; that is to say, art that is accepted by everyone as part of our collective cultural memory.
Christo and Jeanne Claude
In the current period, Christo and Jeanne Claude belong to a very small circle of artists who enjoy a certain critical immunity. The couple, who staged each large-scale project together, are associated with wrapped monuments and installations in an XXL format.
Brought back to life
Christo died officially on 31 May 2020 in New York. But he will be brought back to life on 18 September 2021 for 15 days together with Jeanne Claude, who died on 18 November 2009.
Their team, led by the artist’s nephew Vladimir Yavachev who assisted him on all his later projects, will carry out this final ephemeral realizable artwork: L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped.
The project was first conceived in 1961, while the artists were still living in Paris. Just before he died, Christo recalled how he discovered the French capital when he was a Bulgarian political refugee (1): “I arrived in Paris with my bad French not knowing anyone. And what was the first thing I saw? The Arc de Triomphe, at the end of the Champs Elysées! My little room was right there.”
Beauty of the ephemeral
The Arc de Triomphe project encapsulates all the great principles of Christo’s work (Read here the report I wrote 5 years ago with an interview of Christo about his show at the Fondation Maeght in Saint Paul de Vence). Starting with the beauty of the ephemeral. It took years of preparation and negotiating with the authorities prior to the planning phase. However, whatever happens it will only be displayed for fifteen days and no more. The artist stated: “It doesn’t matter if our installations remain for three days or two weeks, what it essential is to obtain the authorization, lease the land and organize the logistics.”
Self-funding. In an age of excessive sponsorship and advertising, Christo always closely guarded his autonomy. In this case, bringing the project to life took up to a thousand workers during the final days of the installation and cost 14 million euros, which was entirely self-funded by the sale of preparatory drawings, produced prolifically by the artist, and more recently by an auction at Sotheby’s and various exhibition-sales (Read here the report about the auction dedicated to Christo). The artist implemented a self-funded production structure that is studied at major American universities.
And, above all, the project in itself is extraordinary: the scope of the installation is on a dizzying scale. The monument is covered by 25,000m2 of recyclable polypropylene fabric held together by 3000 metres of red rope. “My projects go beyond usual works of art. They are very literal, very real, they are what they are. When we realize these artistic projects we encounter the same problems as in the construction of highways, bridges and airports. Our projects are on the kind of scale rarely seen in the visual arts.”
No political significance
Christo starting wrapping objects in 1958. His nephew says that he loved to leave the works open to the viewer’s interpretation. “He didn’t place any political significance on his works.”
Art as journey
The artist said in 2020: “My artworks are not simple artistic products. They are journeys. They can last for years. That’s what I like. The place is the most important part of my projects.”
Place de l’Etoile
Enrobed in giant swathes of creased silver, the symbol of the French Republic will glitter in this mysterious guise for 15 days at the Place de l’Étoile. When the wind blows it will make the huge installation dance and shimmer with the light. On each of the two weekends during the operation you will even be able to approach it on foot: cars will be prevented from driving around the monument.
This will be the last time that a work wrapped by Christo and Jeanne Claude will be on view. So it’s the last chance to admire a historic piece of work, one that is unclassifiable and extraordinary.
All that’s left is his famous Mastaba, the 150-metre-tall stack of 410,000 empty multicoloured oil barrels, which may yet see the light of day – who knows when – in the Abu Dhabi desert. But that’s another story…
From 18 September to 3 October: http://www.paris-arc-de-triomphe.fr/Actualites/L-Arc-de-triomphe-empaquete
(1) Cahiers d’art. 2020. Christo. « Je suis toujours l’étranger ». Christo – Conversation with Lorenza Giovanelli, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Staffan Ahrenberg.
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