On a recent and temperate Sunday night, I was sitting with friends and family on the terrace of a favorite neighborhood bistro, Il Était Une Oie Dans le Sud-Ouest, and I was enjoying a late summer salad featuring the restaurant’s trademark Gascon duck, and savoring a particularly lively Côtes de Gascogne. As dinner wound down, the conversation turned to what one “must-see” things in Paris right now, and Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped” came up. I had a feeling that if we didn’t go that evening, we might not get around to it. So, we skipped coffee and dessert (not easy considering restaurant’s impeccable Pear and Hazelnut Crumble) and decided to stroll the ten or so blocks up Avenue Wagram and see it right away.
We came upon the majestic monument, transformed into a larger-than-life work of art. Covered in 270,000 square feet of sliver-blue recyclable polypropylene fabric, and bound by 7,000 meters of red rope, rose this imposing hundred sixty-four-foot monument-turned-sculpture. Lit from below, it shimmered and glowed in the tail and headlights of cars against a cloudless black sky. It is the posthumous gift-wrapped present to Paris from the late artist, known as Christo, who, with his wife Jeanne-Claude, dreamt of mounting this work since 1962, when they gazed on the Arc de Triomphe from the window of their small Paris apartment just blocks away. Perhaps they wanted people to take notice of the familiar sight for the truly fantastic wonder that it is? Or simply to see it differently? Or to appreciate the ephemeral nature of beauty and life? Sadly, as it turned out, Christo would not live to see his last masterpiece. He died in May of 2020, in the middle of planning for the scheduled launch date that September. With the Covid-19 Pandemic’s second wave then hitting Europe, everything was then put on hold. His nephew, and project manager, Vladimir Yavachev took the helm and finally brought it across the finish line, a posthumous honor to his uncle.
“Wrapped” can remind us to see and enjoy the familiar, which too easily becomes background noise that we cease to really notice. Most of the Parisians I know appreciate the city’s profound beauty and continue to take pride and pleasure in it. But many are divided over “L’Arc du Triomphe, Wrapped.” Those who argue that it is a waste of government money are quickly disabused of this notion with the fact that it was entirely self-financed by Christo through the sale of his works and designs. Those concerned by all of the plastic material used to cover L’Arc may be reassured that it is recyclable. You’ll hear some say “it’s not art” or “it’ll create more traffic.” The politician Florian Philippot called it ”a garbage bag draped over one of our most glorious monuments.” But many praise it as a marvel. Whether one hates the idea of this installation, or loves it, I encourage people to experience it, virtually or in-person. It is up until October 3rd.