In 1960 the established French art critic Pierre Restany launched the term Nouveau realisme, or New Realism in English, to describe a new wave of artists that emerged at the time. The basic principles of the movement to come were emphasized by Restany in a manifesto with the common denominator for all the practitioners indicating collective singularity (the fact they were acting together despite their differences), and the appropriation of reality. Exhibiting along with the Nouveau realisme proponents such as Yves Klein or Danielle Spoeri, there was also Christo, at the time a young Bulgarian who soon joined forces with Jeanne-Claude, a promising artist of Moroccan descent.
The two constructed an unprecedented method of wrapping objects that gradually evolved to grandiose wrapping interventions conducted in the public space. Over the years they’ve wrapped public buildings such as the Reichstag in Berlin, and entire islands in Miami's Biscayne Bay. Although The Christo and Jeanne-Claude interventions were often considered controversial for the grandeur and the alleged lack of content, their domains are definitely highly regarded in historical context and the time their pioneering practice was conceived.
The Centre des Monuments Nationaux and the Centre Pompidou recently announced that Christo himself (Jeanne-Claude passed away in 2009) will release a new wrapping piece in Paris L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped (Project for Paris, Place de l’Étoile-Charles de Gaulle). As the very title suggests, the iconic Parisian site will be wrapped in 25,000 square meters of in silvery blue recyclable fabric, and 7,000 meters of red rope.
The event that will precede the revealing of a new temporary project will be an exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou focused on Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s early years in Paris from 1958 to 1964 before they moved to the United States.
Under the curation of Sophie Duplaix, chief curator of contemporary collections at the Musée national d’art moderne, the exhibition will shed light to the initial impulses that led Christo and Jeanne-Claude to the formation of their signature principle.
It will practically be divided into two sections; the first will cover the couple’s Parisian years from the moment they met in 1958 until 1964 when they moved to New York, including preparatory sketches for the Cratères series of matierist paintings influenced by Jean Dubuffet along with the selection of first packaged objects; the second one will be dedicated to the Pont-Neuf Wrapped project and the production of this outstanding piece presented in 1985 including around forty drawings and collages, photographs in situ and a documentary film made throughout the creative process.
The exhibition design will additionally accentuate the stages in Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s artistic journey - it will indicate that their works were conceived in the intimacy of their cramped studios, as well as outdoors in the urban landscape.
This seven-year period Christo and Jeanne-Claude spent in Paris is regarded as essential for a proper understanding of their oeuvre and encompasses almost ten projects made in the mentioned period (Project for Wrapping a Public Building, 1961; Project for Wrapping of the École Militaire, 1961; Wall of Oil Barrels - The Iron Curtain, Rue Visconti, 1961-62 (realized); Project for Wrapping of the Arc de Triomphe, 1962; Wrapped Statue, Place du Trocadéro, 1964 (realized); Project for Wrapped Statue of Louis XIII, Place des Vosges, 1967; 112 Oil Barrels Structure, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, 1968 (realized); Wrapped Trees (Project for Avenue des Champs Elysées and Rond-Point des Champs Elysées in Paris), 1969; Wrapped Bridge, Project for the Pont Alexandre III, 1972; and The Pont-Neuf Wrapped, 1975-1985 (realized)).
Around 1961, Christo and Jeanne-Claude started producing artworks in public spaces and they were especially interested in wrapping a public structure. At that time, Christo was renting a small atelier near the Arc de Triomphe, and so he felt very inspired by the site and made several studies of the same, including a photomontage of the Arc de Triomphe wrapped. In the following decades, Christo made a few more studies, and finally, after almost 60 years the project will be realized.
The project will be solely funded by Christo through the sale of his preparatory sketches, collages, and scale models of the project, as well as works from the 1950s and 1960s and original lithographs made for other projects. The Eternal Flame that stands in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe, will continue to burn during the preparation and display of the artwork. Needless to say, the veterans' associations and volunteers honoring the values of the French Republic will make sure not to disrupt the tradition of remembrance and the daily ceremony of maintaining the flame that stands as an homage to the Unknown Soldier and those who lost their lives fighting for France.
Both The Centre des monuments nationaux, in charge for the Arc de Triomphe, and the Center Pompidou that will host an exhibition, expressed tremendous excitement for the upcoming events and the fact the practice of one of the world’s most acclaimed artistic pairs will be honored and overviewed from a contemporary perspective.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude in Paris will be on display at the Centre Pompidou from 18 March until 15 June 2020, while L’Arc de Triomphe Wrapped (project for Paris, Place de L’etoile - Charles de Gaulle) has been postponed to next year - the new dates are September 18 – October 3, 2021.
Featured images: Christo & Jeanne Claude - The Pont - Neuf Wrapped [Le Pont - Neuf empaqueté, Paris, 1975 - 1985], Paris, 1975 - 1985 © Christo 1985. Photo © Wolfang Volz; The artists, with Johannes Schaub, are received by Jacques Chirac and Françoise de Panafieu, deputy mayor of Paris, at the City Hall, February 21, 1982. During this meeting, which was filmed by the Maysles brothers, Jacques Chirac, in favor of the project, specifies that he will not formally give his permission until after the next elections, scheduled in spring 1983. © Christo 1983. Photo © Wolfgang Volz. All images courtesy Centre Pompidou Paris 2020.