Liberal Arts Blog — Bulgarian Refugee Wraps the Arc de Triomphe in Paris
Liberal Arts Blog — Friday is the Joy of Art, Architecture, Design, Film, and All Things Visual Day
Today’s Topic: Bulgarian Refugee (Christo) Wraps the Arc de Triomphe in Paris (Posthumously)
What on earth does it mean? Who cares? Do you love it? Do you hate it? Why? Today, three images of Cristo’s last ephemeral creation plus a few excerpts from critical commentary on the work as well as quotes from the man himself. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.
BAUDELAIRE, THE DELUSIONAL GLORY OF NAPOLEON, AND THE HUMILIATIONS OF 1870 AND 1940
1. “Charles Baudelaire, who haunted the streets of Paris during France’s Second Empire, described beauty as one part timeless (“eternal and invariable”) and one part ephemeral (“relative, circumstantial”). In his great essay “The Painter of Modern Life,” he upheld the importance of all the aspects of beauty in that second category, the things that didn’t last: The pageant of fashion. The sketch of manners. Curiosity. Appetite. Eros.” (first link)
2. “Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped” belongs in that same category. The Arc de Triomphe was erected at the behest of Napoleon Bonaparte. It was intended as a tribute to his and France’s everlasting glory, whereas the duo’s wrapped arch is a salute to circumstantial beauty. It’s temporary. It’s lightweight. It’s responsive to the wind and the changing light and the world around it. And after just 16 days, it will be gone.”
3. “Napoleon had the Arc de Triomphe erected in 1806, at the height of his power. In retrospect, it was one of the most delusional moments in French history….Where was the glory in the catastrophic retreat from Russia, where order broke down, soldiers froze to death and ate their own horses? Where was the glory in the terror and barbarity of the Peninsular War (which Goya depicted in his “Disaster of War” etchings)?
NB: And of course Louis Napoleon would suffer a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Prussians in 1870, and Paris would fall to Hitler in June of 1940.
THE FANTASY OF A BULGARIAN REFUGEE COMES TRUE SIXTY YEARS LATER
1. “As a young man, having fled communist Bulgaria, he would gaze at the monument from his tiny garret apartment. A photomontage dated 1962 shows the 164-foot-high arch crudely bundled up. Freedom trumped the sacred. He always wanted people to look again at what perhaps they did not see.” (second link)
2. “Now, a little over a year after Christo’s at the age of 84, “L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped” is a reality. Some 270,000 square feet of silvery blue fabric, shimmering in the changing light of Paris, hugs the monument commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 at the giddy height of his power. The polypropylene material, its tone reminiscent of the city’s distinctive zinc roofs, is secured but not held rigidly fast by almost 1.9 miles of red rope, in line with the artist’s meticulous instructions.”
3. “Bastille Day on July 14 and Armistice Day on Nov. 11, when ceremonies take place at the monument, left a limited window. Building the cages whose steel bars pass an inch or two from the outstretched hand or foot of a frieze or a funereal relief was painstaking. So was rappelling down to work under the overhangs of the cornice. In all, 1,200 people labored on the wrapping.”
NB: “Born into the stifling oppression of the Soviet imperium, Christo — whose full name was Christo Vladimirov Javacheff — always had one core guiding idea: the inalienability of freedom. When the Berlin Wall went up in 1961, he made a wall of oil barrels on the Rue Visconti in Paris, a first defiant public statement.”
CHRISTO QUOTES: the freedom thing, the thinking thing, the joy thing
1. “The work of art is a scream of freedom.”
2. “Every artist in the world likes his or her work to make people think.”
3. “We are probably the only artists in the world who have a 2,000-page book on a work of art that doesn’t exist. But in this way, these projects reveal their identity through this whole process. When I’m starting, I only have the slightest idea of how the work of art will exist.”
NB: “We tell them that we believe it will be beautiful because that is our specialty, we only create joy and beauty. We have never done a sad work. Through the drawings, we hope a majority will be able to visualize it.”
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