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France's Arc de Triomphe Gets A Temporary Artistic Makeover

Sep 27, 2021

One of the world's most iconic landmarks just got transformed into a work of art.

From September 18 to October 3, 2021, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, will be embellished with 25,000 square meters of shimmering silvery-blue plastic fabric, held in place by 9,842 feet (3,000 meters) of red rope. The installation, dubbed "L'Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped," is the brainchild of the late artist duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The artists first came up with the idea in 1961. However, the project was set aside because they didn't think it would be approved. Over the years, the couple became famous for their massive outdoor artworks, which often included wrapping monuments and nature.

Jeanne-Claude passed away in 2009. But Christo never forgot his dream of encasing the Arc de Triomphe. The artist finally presented his designs to French officials in 2018 and was instantly given the okay. The installation was initially slated for April 2020. But it was delayed — at first to accommodate nesting kestrel falcons — and then due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, Christo died in May 2020. But his nephew and the project's director, Vladimir Yavachev, was determined to realize his uncle's dream. Draping the gigantic, 64-foot-high (50 meter) and 148-foot-wide (45 meter) limestone arch was no easy task. Anne Burghartz, an engineer on the project told CNN that they had to first determine how to make the artist's dream a reality without compromising his design. Then there was the challenge of securing the fabric, such that it would sway in the breeze but not be dragged by it.

But most importantly, the artwork had to be completed without damaging the iconic landmark. The team got around the hurdle by hanging the fabric on specially-built wood scaffolding and brackets. The endeavor took the 1000 workers and climbers about 12 weeks and cost 14 million euros ($16.5 million). Like all of Christo's and Jeanne-Claude's projects, the steep cost was covered by the sale of the couple's original drawings and artworks. While "L'Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped" is one of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's last projects, it may not be their final one. That honor may belong to a giant version of The London Mastaba — a temporary sculpture that was placed in the UK's Serpentine Lake from June 19 to September 9, 2018. The new rendition of the Mastaba, which was designed by Christo in 1977, will be installed in the Abu Dhabi desert. Made using 410,000 multi-colored oil barrels, it will be the world's largest sculpture.

"It might take another five years; it might take another 10 years. I don't know," Yavachev said. "But I'm confident that we'll get it done."

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