Christo Vladimirov Javacheff (1935–2020) and Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon (1935–2009) were life partners in every way. They shared their vision with the art world through epic environmental installations – referred to by Christo as “gentle disturbances”* – and though both have now passed, they’ve left us one last canon of art.
Benjamin Loyseau, © 2021 Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation
L’Arc de Triomphe Wrapped opened to the public on 18th September 2021.
The neoclassical monument, which took 30 years to build, has stood in Paris for 185 years, honouring the fallen and becoming an iconic symbol of French national identity. Now, for a limited time only, it’s delicately draped with 25,000 square metres of silvery blue fabric and 3000 metres of red rope. What was grounded and historical has temporarily become new and ethereal, much like the artistic duo.
It was in Paris that Christo and Jeanne-Claude met for the very first time, began creating these monumental installations in public spaces and where Christo rented a room near the Arc de Triomphe. It’s not clear to me the reason they strove to wrap the Parisian landmark but the process* began in 1962 and continued until permission was given to bring their vision to life. Poignantly Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s artistic lifelong dream, financed through sale of their own work, has been carried out posthumously.
Seeing this news, I recalled another piece I wrote about last year. Cornelia Parker’s re-titled Rodin’s sculpture The Distance (A Kiss with Strings Attached) https://ranjitsihat.co.uk/abuse-of-rodin/ and reading the news articles about Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s final piece, I wondered how was this art piece any different from that of Parker’s? They’ve taken something that already proudly exists in its own right and manipulated it or (as I suggested with The Distance) ‘vandalised’ it.
Cornelia Ann Parker (1956 – ), is an artist famous for her deconstructing chosen objects and reassembling them to create visually aesthetic pieces of art. In this case, using Rodin’s The Kiss, an iconic masterpiece, and destroying it to symbolically portray the complications in relationships and “to make the sculpture less of a cliché.”* The Distance (A Kiss with Strings Attached) was produced for Tate Britain’s triennial of contemporary British art exhibition to see the works of emerging artists. With protestors taking scissors to the string, Parker most definitely stirred controversy. As has L’Arc de Triomphe Wrapped:
J’ai honte. Désolée. (“I am ashamed. Sorry.”)
French journalist Christine Kelly
With this in mind, I am surprised by my reaction to the L’Arc de Triomphe Wrapped.
Why do I embrace this short-lived, surreal version of the Arc de Triomphe but despise Parker’s The Distance? Why do I consider it as magnificent rather than lazy? Why am I not offended by it?
Upon closer examination and research into both pieces, I found my answer in three specific reasons.
Firstly, the timing is apt for L’Arc de Triomphe Wrapped. A pandemic has hit the world like an angry wave. Millions of lives have been lost. There is global suffering and through it all, we have all been masked by a piece of material just like the Arc de Triomphe currently is.
I feel the appropriateness and power of this installation. A piece that stands without political agenda but rather a grandiose avant garde idea brought to fruition by creative dreamers…lovers. One that exemplifies beauty and breathes through the material with us. Material that is just as exposed to the elements, as are we.
Secondly, Cornelia Parker’s mile-long piece of string ties Rodin’s lovers down to an unforgiving earthly existence. This alternative omits the freedom to dream of something more by reminding us we are all prisoners of something or someone. Whether it is society, family, friends or ourselves. In contrast, L’Arc de Triomphe Wrapped is awe-inspiring and dares you to be open and embrace its visual identity.
Finally, L’Arc de Triomphe Wrapped, forces us to think of the now. It asks us to consider what’s right in front of us by concealing the historical aspect. Just like the pandemic, it challenges us to stop. To be quiet. Present. Still. To be.
I think the reason I have reacted to both very differently is because I’ve made them personal to me.
I’ve not been objective. I’ve been biased.
For me Cornelia Parker defaced my most loved sculpture. Yes life is hard, people are hard, relationships are hard…but life can bring you wonder, people can bring you joy and relationships can elevate you, all of which she disregards. Christo and Jeanne-Claude, on the other hand, give me hope. Despite the challenges they faced to create L’Arc de Triomphe Wrapped it stands today as a testament to perseverance and faith. Which, in my opinion, is something we all need more of.
Other installations by Christo and Jeanne-Claude:
As part of The Umbrellas, Japan-USA, 1984-91.
Photo by Alon Reininger/Contact Press Images
Wrapping Point Neuf, Paris, 1985.
Photo by Wolfgang Volz ©Christo und Jeanne-Claude
Valley Curtain, Rifle, Colorado, 1970-72.
Photo by Wolfgang Volz © 1972 Christo
Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California 1972-76.
© Christo; Color photograph by Jeanne-Claude, 1976
Surrounded Islands Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida, 1980–1983.
Photo by Wolfgang Volz
Other Useful References:
For fantastic preliminary sketches: https://www.widewalls.ch/artists/christo-and-jeanne-claude/artworks
The materials that created Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s installations were sold or given away after the projects were dismantled.