A first giant sheet of fabric was draped down the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Sunday as work started to wrap the monument in a tribute to late artist Christo.
After weeks of preparations, the final stage of the art installation has begun, with a silver-blue sheet of recyclable polypropylene unfurled from the top of the imposing war memorial at the top of the Champs-Elysees.
Over the next few days, the entire Arc will be wrapped in 25,000 square metres (270,000 square feet) of fabric — the signature of Bulgarian-born Christo, who died last year.
He had dreamed of sheathing the 50-metre-high monument since renting a nearby apartment in the 1960s.
But despite completing other major public works during his lifetime, including wrapping the oldest bridge in Paris in 1985 and the German parliament in 1995, the Arc de Triomphe project never materialised before his death.
The completion of his vision — and that of his co-designer and wife, Jeanne-Claude — has been overseen by his nephew Vladimir Javacheff in coordination with the Pompidou museum and French authorities.
“Today is one of the most spectacular moments of the installation. The wrapped Arc de Triomphe starts to take form and approach the vision that was a lifelong dream for Christo and Jeanne-Claude,” said Javacheff.
It is due to be completed on Saturday, after which the protective barriers will be removed and the public allowed to get up close to the transformed monument.
The wrapping will then stay in place until October 3.
‘A living object’
Not everyone has welcomed the project.
Architect Carlo Ratti, a friend of Christo’s, wrote an editorial in Le Monde this weekend saying it was wrong to waste so much fabric at a time when the fashion industry is responsible for such high levels of carbon emissions.
For Christo, though, who left sketches and photo montages of his plans, the vision was that the Arc would become “like a living object stimulated by the wind and reflecting the light”.
“People are going to want to touch the Arc de Triomphe,” he said.
The monument, which was built by Napoleon to commemorate fallen soldiers during his military campaigns, has been recently restored after being defaced by anti-government “yellow vest” rioters in December 2018.
As well as the polypropylene fabric, the project will use 3,000 metres of red rope, all of which can be recycled.
Born on June 13, 1935 in Bulgaria, Christo left his home in 1957, living in several countries before arriving in Paris, where he met his future wife Jeanne-Claude.
He died of natural causes at his home in New York in May last year.
The Arc de Triomphe, with the flame at the tomb of the unknown soldier still alight, will be accessible throughout the 16-day exhibition.