Final Dream Wrapped Up: Christo’s L’Arc de Triomphe

Shimmering silver and bounded by red recyclable rope, Christo’s and Jean-Claude’s last project drew throngs of visitors on opening weekend. With the Champs-Elysées closed to vehicle traffic and security guards and police carefully monitoring comings and goings, the L’Arc de Triomphe-Wrapped–unveiled officially on September 18–is the fruition of a sixty-year-old dream. A monumental dream.

Covid be damned, everyone who viewed the masterpiece was in a celebratory mood, masked and unmasked, freely mingling about under a hazy sunlit sky, enjoying the mild weather. Someone was handing out woven sample swatches of the wrapping—metallic silver on one side, bright aqua blue on the other. A few people dressed in costume. Most were content to circle the monument and snap photos with sheer delight.

Imagine the material and preparation and engineering: approximately 270,000 square feet of blue-backed silver polypropylene, nearly 10,000 feet of the same plastic red cording, and a structural support of steel slabs weighing 150 pounds so as not to harm the arch’s friezes. It was approved by the France’s Center of Monuments Nationaux and supervised by Christo’s and Jeanne-Claude’s nephew Vladimir Yavachev. According to Roger Cohen in his New York Times article, “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.”

The Arc stands at the center of Place Charles de Gaulle, now nicknamed—on an amusingly plastic-wrapped sign—Place Christo & Jean-Claude. Seen from the twelve roads that radiate from the Place, this imposing monument is a natural tourist site with a 360-degree view of Paris atop its observation deck.

Originally commissioned in 1806 by Emperor Napoléon to glorify France’s Grande Armée’s victories of 1792, this colossal and neoclassical arch—was thirty years in the making. Napoléon did not live to see its completion. It was erected fifteen years after his death.

Since then, the Arc has been witness to history: Among many highlights, in 1885, mourners passed by to view Victor Hugo in his coffin; returning WWI French soldiers marched beneath it; Nazi soldiers stomped through it during their WWII Occupation; French and US Military paraded around it in victory, in 1944. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier lies beneath it, and each night the eternal flame is lit in remembrance.

This posthumously completed dream—36 years after the couple wrapped the Pont Neuf, Paris’s oldest bridge—is a fitting memorial to the life and work Christo and Jeanne-Claude. As they planned, the wrapping moves sensually in the wind and reflects light. I wonder what Napoléon would have thought of it. Like life, it’s fleeting in nature, and will be dismantled on October 3rd.

L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, Paris, 1961-2021.
On View: September 18-October 3

‘We’ll Always Have Paris’ … Just Not This Year

Recently gave a Zoom talk for the Levy Center in Chicago about Paris Off the Beaten Path to over 400 people!

With Covid-19 limiting foreign travel, my armchair tour around Paris was warmly received by both those who had never visited as well as those who have made multiple trips. The Evanston RoundTable profiled me and the Levy Center posted my virtual presentation on YouTube.

Click here to read the article.

Click here to view the talk on YouTube.

Milan’s Moonlight Castle Concerts

Castle at night

Castello Sforzesco

Under a moonlit sky in Milan, my friend and I discovered a rare evening treat: an ingenious pairing of art and music. Enclosed behind the Castle walls, for only 15 Euros, we thrilled to dramatic staging of details from the paintings of Caravaggio accompanied by the Milano Chamber Orchestra playing Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, and Monteverdi among others.

Three actors from Teatri 35 captivated us as they deftly draped fabric around themselves changing scenes, positions, and dress 19 times using only the billowy material. They enacted images from Caravaggio’s artwork, then adapted final postures, posing like statues for up to a minute or so while Baroque music enveloped the emotional staging. How they held the poses for as long as they did was astonishing to witness.

Called Vivant Tableaux (Living Paintings), this performance technique of scenic representations originated in the Eighteenth Century and gained popularity in the Nineteenth.

Another night we watched an operatic rendition of Cinderella, using student actors in a parody of the fashion industry as a setting. Among the more amusing takes we recognized were four men in white, pony-tailed wigs and sunglasses lampooning Karl Lagerfeld, and a blond-wigged woman spoofing Donatella Versace in expression and gestures. Though clever and amusing, the performance–accompanied by the beautiful operatic voices of students–went on too long.

We noted (but did not go) that Notturni in Castello (Nights at the Castle) planned a fantasy Harry Potter performance another evening. Clearly, the Castle has something for everyone.

Innovative concerts starting at 9 PM en plein air at Castello Sforzesco run from June through August. You can buy tickets in advance on the grounds during the day. For more information: https://www.notturnincastello.it/

 

Massena Museum in Nice, France

 

Massena MuseumMassena Museum, Nice, France

http://www.nice.fr/fr/culture/musees-et-galeries/musee-massena-le-musee 

Housed in a stately, 19th century villa on the promenade des Anglais overlooking the Mediterranean, the Massena Museum —the façades and roofs of which are classified by French Historic Monument Association—offers visitors a viewing of Empire Age salons and furnishings, tranquil English-style Gardens, and temporary exhibits, such as its current photography exhibit, Jean Gilletta et la Cote d’Azur, paysages et reportages, 1870-1930.

 

As the primary and inexhaustible landscape photographer of the Riveria, Gilletta documented its art and culture, commercialism, and tourism. According to Gilletta’s great nephew, “…nothing escaped his lens,” as he captured a time in flux, casting that lens on the modest and humble as well as the privileged. On construction sites, railways, and bridges. On market vendors, washerwomen, presidents and princes. He recorded rural life and the high life of Nice and Monaco among other sites. From fashionable spa towns, olive groves, and snow-covered mountain peaks to the 1887 earthquake, he was an exemplary reporter and witness for his times.

A 19th century Cartier-Bresson, Gillette preserved those times–forever gone or transformed–through at least 10,000 photos as he tooled around the Cote d’Azur on his three-wheeled, motorized bike—an example of which is on exhibit. In addition to snapping photos, he was also a prolific publisher of postcards and books.

Massena Museum Cut out photo 2The delightful exhibit opens with head cutouts of peasants of the day. Go ahead, stick your head though the opening slot and journey back in time. (I did; Noel was less enthusiastic.) The guards will take your photos. The balance of the exhibit holds numerous original photo prints of people at play and work along the seaside and in the country. The photographs are small and require time and close-up inspection, but to get a sense of the larger exhibit, the designers have created life-size impressions projected on the walls in each room recreating the ambience in which Gilletta worked. In addition to the photos, there’s a three-wheeled, motorized bike that Gilletta tooled around the Cote d’Azur setting his sights on images to snap. A large box camera he used is also on view.

The show recalls an insouciant time along the Cote d’Azur through five principle themes: Nice the resort capital of France, Nissa la Bella (Nice the Beautiful–the city’s unofficial anthem. Listen on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15oZvZtsYYw), By the Mountains and the Valleys, Under the Azure along the Coast, and The News in Pictures.

The exhibit closes March 5, 2018.

The Museum’s permanent collection displays the history of Nice from the 19th century up to the end of 1930s. Highlights include Napoléon’s death mask and Josephine’s tiara with its glittery gemstones, gold, and pearls.

Massena Museum view from window

Practical Info

http://www.nice.fr/fr/culture/musees-et-galeries/musee-massena-le-musee

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 11-6, winter; 10-6, summer.

Closed Tuesdays and certain holidays

Tickets: 6 Euros or buy a 7-day pass for 20 Euros (Access to all 12 municipal museums and galleries for 7 days in Nice)

Location: 65, rue de France (ticket entrance)

Val Lewton From Hollywood to Breezewood at AU Katzen Center

VL Paint CansLast few days to see Val Lewton From Hollywood to Breezewood, a retrospective of one of the most talented Washington (by way of Hollywood) artists. Former exhibit designer for Smithsonian’s American Art Museum, Val Lewton had a supreme and unique command of color and composition. (Full disclosure I’m friends with his widow, Claudia Manizozzi (also a painter), and knew Val from my former Smithsonian days. I also own two of his paintings as well as one of Claudia’s. And I wish I had wall space for more.)

VL Truck Cab

I have long been fascinated with building cranes that pierce the sky at construction sites, marveling how something so industrial can be so elegant against the sky. Val Lewton elevates these same scenes and more with his paintbrush to create penetrating and cinematic close-ups of mundane cityscapes: trucks, construction sites, cranes, shovels, gas stations, cars, highways, taxis, traffic jams, smoke stacks, police call boxes. From wrecked and razed construction sites to massive in your face truck cabs you can feel the power of the movement on the road.

VL Whitehurst Freeway

Val makes the ordinary extraordinary in such diverse images as his colorful, overflowing paint cans and his Dale City depictions of suburban sprawl. All on view just till August 13th. If you miss it, check out the accompanying full color catalog with essay by former Washington Post critic, Ben Forgey.

http://www.american.edu/cas/museum/2017/from-hollywood-to-breezewood.cfm

VLTaxisVLDale City

VL Bee Bee

VL Bee Bee air handler

 

 

Morgans Hotel NYC

Trees grow in NYC– I was surprised to see this little green city oasis from my room at
Morgans Hotel.

After being at a noisy writers conference over the
past weekend at the extremely loud Roosevelt Hotel on Madison Avenue, it was a
pleasure to come back to the calming atmosphere of Morgans Hotel (https://www.morganshotelgroup.com/originals/originals-morgans-new-york)
just eight blocks away on Madison. I’m a bit leery about giving away my secret
because I love this hotel and never want it to get too popular. That said, it
deserves a little mention. If you don’t know where you’re going, you might miss
the nondescript entrance under the triple arches. I’m not sure there’s even a
sign outside. Designed by Andree Putman, Morgans is a boutique hotel with a
modern yet European-style flair. The small lobby is instantly welcoming as is the
pleasant staff. The room’s color scheme is contemporary black
and white. The rooms are small unless you happen to get upgraded to one with a
sitting room. There’s not much space in the bathrooms and the HVAC is on the loud
side, but each room has an inviting, comfy, cushioned window bench—perfect for
stretching out your legs. There’s a small health club, free Wi-Fi, and a breakfast
buffet in a library-like atmosphere. It’s conveniently located just a block away from The Morgan Library Museum (http://www.themorgan.org/), which always has interesting exhibits and is itself a little oasis of art.