Christo Has Paris in (W)raptures

At the age of 83, Christo is about to make a life-long dream come true. As far back as 1962, the Bulgarian-American artist and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, already wanted to use a huge canvas to cover the Arc de Triomphe, a leading symbol of France. Entitled Projet pour Paris, Place de l’Etoile-Charles de Gaulle, this work will be on show from April 6 through 19, 2020, as part of a retrospective exhibition on the artist’s years in Paris at the Pompidou Center.

With his free and temporary installations, Christo cultivates a fascination for experience and enchantment. It was in Paris that the Bulgarian-born American artist and Jeanne-Claude, his French wife who passed away in 2009, met in 1958. They lived and worked in the French capital until 1964 when they moved to New York, where Christo still has his studio in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan.

The pair made a name for themselves with a series of groundbreaking works, such as covering the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in 1969, hanging an immense orange curtain in a valley in Colorado in 1972, running a 25-mile canvas banner through the countryside north of San Francisco in 1976, encircling the islands in Miami’s Biscayne Bay in 1983, wrapping the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris in 1985 and the Reichstag in Berlin in 1995, and installing thousands of saffron-colored gates in New York’s Central Park in 2005.

These urban and rural projects — described by Christo as “environmental art” — are all united by their use of canvas. This simple material “reflects the nomadic nature of the project, as the work is created quickly and only lasts a few days, just like tents used by nomadic tribes,” said the artist in an interview with France-Amérique in 2011. “The canvas moves in the wind, and is never static. There is a dynamic and highly sensual physical side to it.” The one set to cover the Arc de Triomphe will be comprised of 270,000 sq. ft of bluish-silver recyclable polypropylene.

Previously in Paris: the Pont Neuf Bridge

The Pont Neuf project was even more ambitious. The bridge spanning 460 feet long required more than 430,000 sq. ft. of fabric, 12 tons of steel cabling, and the work of 300 professionals managed by 12 engineers. Its installation alone was an achievement! The work was exhibited for two weeks, with the goal of offering a new perspective on the city’s oldest bridge. “The canvas covered every architectural detail and unified all its anecdotal elements,” says the artist. “The only thing that remained was the very essence of the Pont Neuf bridge.”


Photo: Wolfgang Volz. © 1985 Christo + Wolfgang Volz

After the exhibition, all that will remain is the eternal memory of an extraordinary experience. Those who walked across the wrapped-up Pont Neuf in 1985 will never forget it. Neither will those who wandered through the gates in Central Park. Either you lived it, or you didn’t. The only traces left are drawings, collages, models, and photographs. The artist’s preliminary studies are comparable to those of an architect, and are now sold to the highest bidder at unique auctions. The princely sums paid enable the artist to finance his future projects.

“This gives me real artistic freedom and total independence,” says Christo. He also likes pointing out his works cost French taxpayers nothing, and he refuses all donations and official financing.

Article will published in the May 2019 issue of France-Amérique