The Arc de triomphe packaged by Jeanne-Claude and Christo revives the debate on contemporary art in public space

A few meters from the large gray sheet, she first says that she has no words, but they come quickly: “Astonishing, abject, an infamy. “ Isabelle, 53, may love the arts: the packaging of the Arc de Triomphe does not work. Attached to “Patriotic values”, she does not understand that the installation above the flame of the unknown soldier was authorized. Here she goes to the Botticelli exhibition, at the Jacquemart-André Museum, ” to forget “. Others applaud, like Nik, a Berliner in his fifties, who shoots the work with two cameras. He likes to see the elephantine building thus reduced to its pure silhouette. And remembers the packaging of the Reichstag in 1995: “It was a big party! “

Emmanuel Macron was to inaugurate, Thursday, September 16, the last installation designed by Jeanne-Claude and Christo. Wanted in 1961, realized posthumously, the work is ephemeral and visitors can get an opinion until October 3. The 25,000 square meters of recyclable fabric will enter, with the same impetus, into the history of art and that of the controversies affecting contemporary works installed in the capital. Joining there, among other cases, the voluminous Heart of Paris, by Joana Vasconcelos, whose bright red azulejos have been flying since 2019 above the Porte de Clignancourt; or the Bouquet of Tulips offered by Jeff Koons the same year, in memory of the victims of the attacks of November 13, 2015, installed in the gardens of the Champs-Elysées. In 2014, Tree, the work of Paul McCarthy, half Christmas tree, half sextoy, inflated Place Vendôme on the occasion of the International Contemporary Art Fair, had earned its author an assault.

“Transgress the expectations of common sense”

Why so much tension? Contemporary art first of all experiences reactions, good or bad, which it arouses in its audiences, recalls Nathalie Heinich, sociologist of art and director of research at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), author of an investigation into the previous packaging of a Parisian monument by Jeanne-Claude and Christo, in 1985 (The Pont-Neuf de Christo: work of art, work of art or how to form an opinion, Thierry Marchaisse editions, 2020). For the researcher, contemporary art “Has for definition to transgress the expectations of common sense concerning what should be a work”.

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