Wrap it Up, Boys

The History of the Arc de Triomphe

When an artist takes on a historic monument, it becomes something more than a national sculpture, it becomes a story beyond itself.

Re-branding a cultural monument can make it more relevant, more timely and still embrace its meaning. This happened this week in Paris, when the infamous artist, CRISTO took on a national monument.

The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, is a massive triumphal arch in Paris, France, one of the world’s best-known commemorative monuments. The Arc de Triomphe is an iconic symbol of French national identity and took 30 years to build and marks the center of a circle in the Place de la Triomphe. As a national monument it commemorates war dead, from both wars and stands as a symbol of both Victory and Peace.

The ARC of TRIomphe becomes a large scale cristo art installation

CHRISTO’s Environmental art career was based on his idea that we should look closely at what is around us and celebrate it. He took on the 1970’s idea of earthworks, and stepped it up a notch becoming world famous for the sheer size and magnitude of his projects. The Arc of Triumph project, a concept he explored from his list of things to do (we should all have such a list) was recently executed in his memory by his partner, Jean-Claude.  Many years in the making, the idea of wrapping the L’arc de Triomphe makes this French monument something unique in the world of art:  a national political statement that has become an art object in itself and a timely reminder of our planet’s critical phase as it heads towards extreme climate change.

Original Conception for the Installation.

When a monument becomes Art

L’arc de Triomphe had already joined the pantheon of Paris monuments that stands in honor of the War Dead, and at the center of a circle of constantly moving cars, had fallen into a  category of memorable, iconic, yet like an old piece of furniture in the living room, ignored.

How does the Wrapping of the Monument take its meaning to a new place?

b.  Wrapping the monument gives it cultural relevance for a new generation who may not be familiar with Cristo’s work from the 1970s.

c.  The central  monument always a fixture in Paris has now become a major art installation. This continues the tradition of Paris as an art gallery that engages the citizens.

d.  The L’ Arc de Triomphe is a statement about Cristo’s own agenda to save the planet.  In the center of Paris, this Statement makes sense with the PARIS CLIMATE AGREEMENT a topic of conversation.

e. Lastly, the re-discovering of an old monument in a whole new way, re-writing its history and connection to an entirely new audience. This is the re-brand and revision of an old idea that had lost its relevance.

How do we view this piece as a brand story?

The monument has a history and iconic status in the national mindset of France and the world. By wrapping it, Cristo has reminded everyone of its meaning on many levels. He has highlighted national pride for everyone about war and peace; he has placed the wrapping on the monument to draw attention to it, both as an environmental piece as well as a cautionary reminder. This has given a dusty icon, a new lease on life. He has re-written the story of the monument: Giving it artistic and cultural meaning beyond its original purpose. The art installation has respected the tomb of the unknown soldier, a tale of heroism. By engaging the audience in the shape, form and mass of the monument, he has also drawn attention to its original design and made it modern, again.

Biography of the Artist: 

Christo Vladimirov Javacheff (1935-2020) and Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon (1935-2009), known as Christo and Jeanne-Claude, were artists noted for their large-scale, site-specific environmental installations, often large landmarks and landscape elements wrapped in fabric, including the Wrapped Reichstag, and projects such as this one often germinate in his plans for many decades. The Arc de Triomphe was begun in 1963 with an art piece that he created and was a project to be completed after his death.