Christos ‘L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped’ and his complicated relationship with Bulgaria

Christo and partner Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebons latest project, L’Arc de Triomphe, packed, was completed a year after the artist’s death and 60 years after his first performance.

L’Arc de Triomphe, packed is exactly that: the iconic Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, wrapped in 25,000 square meters of recyclable polypropylene fabric in silver blue and 3,000 meters of red rope.

It will be open to the public until October 3rd.

The piece was designed and planned by the artists and life partners Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

The best-known examples of her previous work include the wrapping of the Berlin Reichstag building in 1995, which Christo described as a symbol of his upbringing in communist Bulgaria. The goals in New York’s Central Park and The umbrellas built simultaneously in Japan and California.

Although Jeanne-Claude and Christo passed away in May last year, both had made it clear that the projects they had started should be carried out as planned.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s nephew Vladimir Yavachev, who has worked with the couple on various art projects, brought L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped to life and funded the project – worth 14 million euros – through the sale of various works of art in full by Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

The idea of ​​cladding the Arc de Triomphe came about in 1961 when Christo and Jeanne-Claude rented a room opposite the monument. During this time they began to experiment with the packaging of objects, depriving them of their function and looking at them from a new perspective.

From Gabrovo to Paris

In Paris, Christo became part of the Nouveau Réalisme art collective, but his trip to France was long and arduous.

Born in 1935 in the small town of Gabrovo, Bulgaria, Christo moved to Sofia in 1953, where he began studying at the National Academy of Arts. There he was taught to paint realistic works and communist propaganda, which he found boring and uninspiring.

The invitation to do his military service was the last straw for Christo and with the help of connections he made at the academy, he traveled to Prague, where by 1956, due to the revolution in neighboring Hungary, he realized that he had to flee the Eastern Bloc fully.

Christo first went to Austria to study at the Vienna Academy of Arts, gave up his Bulgarian passport and applied for political asylum. In 1958 he received a visa to settle in France and in the same year he began to complete his signature work, which involved the packaging of various objects that were becoming larger and more complex.

L’Arc de Triomphe, packed

According to Vladimir Yavachev, “Christo and Jeanne-Claude believed that their work was ultimately about freedom. Nobody could own that [temporary] Work of art, not even them. Everyone could have their own meaning and each meaning was important and right. “

Regarding the L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, Yavachev argues that “an important thing is that people can come and walk around the Arc de Triomphe and touch the material. It is a living work of art that moves with the wind. “

Delphine, an art student from Paris attending the episode, offers a similar interpretation of the piece.

“I’m a really big Christo fan and I think this project reveals aspects of the monument’s beauty that otherwise remain hidden. It reveals the beauty of the shapes, lines and curves that are normally heavily overshadowed by the facade. The light and shadows created by the sun during the day or the city lights that are thrown at night completely transform the monument, ”she says Emerging Europe.

However, not all of them responded to the major project with such exuberant praise. The news that the Arc de Triomphe was being covered up was greeted with anger by many Parisians. Some suggested that the monument now looks like it is under construction and others expressed pity for the tourists who visited Paris while the installation was in progress.

“The three main reasons some locals oppose it are because they say it’s not beautiful and art should be beautiful, that it is destroying the monument and that it is wasteful,” says Delphine.

“However, beauty is subjective and I think this is a beautiful work of art. The other two points are also invalid as there is a protective structure between the arc and the cover and the cover is made of recycled plastic that is reused, ”she adds.

Was Christo Bulgarian?

In Christo’s native Bulgaria, too, there was a negative reaction to L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, exacerbated by the artist’s complicated relationship with the country.

Although Christo described himself as originally from Bulgaria in more than one interview, there is a widespread opinion in the country that he did not identify as Bulgarian or that he was not proud of his ethnicity.

On September 18, when L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped was unveiled to the public, a popular thread on Bulgarian Twitter asked, “What Bulgarian building would Christo wrap up if he wasn’t ashamed to be Bulgarian?”

Christo’s family, the Yavashevi, were once wealthy Bulgarian merchants based in Thessaloniki, Greece who fled to Bulgaria to escape ethnic persecution during the Balkan Wars of 1912-13.

When the Bulgarian Communist Party took power in 1944, the family’s property was confiscated and Christo’s father was imprisoned as part of the intelligentsia, while the artist, siblings and mother were exposed to poverty and constant surveillance.

After he fled the country at the age of 21, he did not return once, even after the collapse of the communist regime.

Rene Beekman, a Dutch artist and curator who has lived and worked in Bulgaria for almost 20 years, tells the story Emerging Europe that “the relationship between the Bulgarian contemporary art scene and the Bulgarian artists who have left the country is in most cases problematic”.

“The relationship with Christ was particularly good. For most of his life, both Christ and Bulgarian society stubbornly looked in opposite directions. While Christo crossed borders, borders and nationalities in every way, for decades the Bulgarian contemporary art scene pretended not to exist, ”argues Beekman.

Reintroduction of Christ

The stories of Christ and his family were largely erased from the public consciousness during the communist era, but there have been attempts recently to reintroduce him to the Bulgarian contemporary art scene.

Over the past decade, Chisto’s hometown of Gabrovo has hosted several exhibitions dedicated to the legacy of Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

In 2013, Christo, Stefan and Anani Yavashevi donated 50 works of art to Gabrovo, and the city has pledged to open a contemporary art center called Christo and Jeanne-Claude by 2023.

Last weekend the Institut Français de Bulgarie and Sofia City Council organized a live demonstration of the wrapping of the Arc de Triomphe in Slaveykov Square in Sofia and in the National Gallery as part of a series of lectures, film screenings and workshops dedicated to the heritage two artists that will take place in Sofia until November.

According to Beekman, such projects should not do anything to whitewash Christo or his family history: “Over the past decade there has been a surge of attempts to appropriate Christo as a ‘Bulgarian’ artist who is driven by something that I cannot characterize in any way other than provincial nationalism. “

“Christo’s influence on contemporary artists everywhere has always been precisely his limitlessness, his crossing of all these limits,” says the artist.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s next project that Vladimir Yavachev plans to complete is a 150-meter-high pyramidal mastaba in Abu Dhabi using plans drawn up by the couple.

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