PRINT January 1986


Christo in Paris. The bridge wore beige.

CHRISTO’S PACKAGING IN CLOTH of the venerable Paris bridge the Pont-Neuf confirms his spot right up there in Cecil B. De Mille’s class as a creator of dazzling spectacle. The numbers involved read like a movie-studio budget: ten years in the making; 440,000 square feet of fabric; 42,900 feet of rope; executed by over 500 engineers, construction workers, scuba divers, and rock climbers; 500,000 samples of cloth to be distributed free; estimated cost: $2.5 million; privately financed by the producer/director, Christo, with no grant monies or government subsidies.

A conceptual underpinning has been clear from the start in Christo’s generally Surrealist-derived productions, in which the familiar is made strange in a spectacular gray area between art and life, a kind of earthwork/happening. As he has strung cloth across Colorado canyons, run fencing through California fields, and floated fabric around Floridian islands in a 3-D Claude Monet, the actual planning of the projects has become a large part of the work itself, and an intrinsic element in its content. This latest epic production in Paris stayed up for only two weeks this fall. The paradox of such immense resources applied to so temporary a goal, the obvious ensuing moral questions, the intertwined strains of whimsy and serious purpose, the vision of a well-known 400-year-old architectural and tourist landmark totally transformed (or demonstrated) to resemble a picturesque waterfall—all combined to make The Pont-Neuf Wrapped, Paris, 1975–85 the most tensely theatrical and therefore most satisfyingly realized of Christo’s projects to date.

By overlaying the Pont-Neufs already multilayered identity—including the link it proposes between tourism and history—with yet another complex set of material, subject, and site meanings, Christo stirred up and rearranged the palimpsest of associations that are the common property of the general Parisian population. How deeply felt and how widely fascinating these associations are could be easily seen in the enormous audience drawn by The Pont-Neuf Wrapped. Most of Paris seemed attracted to the spectacle, in a continuous flow of viewing from earliest dawn to late night. People swarmed over the bridge’s cloth-covered sidewalks and inset benches, looking up at the hooded lampposts and descending the draped stairs to the Square du Vert-Galant at the tip of the Ile de la Cité, which the bridge crosses.

The wrapping was impeccable—bridge high-couture style; to some it was an art/fashion pun. (The fashion world had gathered in Paris for the spring-collection shows.) Over a carefully laid framework which completely covered the bridge, the yards of fabric were immaculate]y stretched, with folds sewn into it approximately every six inches and then made more regular by rock-climbers’ adjustments. The wrap was secured by crisscrossing ropes. Not on]y was the bridge’s usual texture altered, its visual coding completely shifted as the polyamide cloth, a woven nylon, changed colors in the famous Parisian light. At different times of day from different vantage points, The Pont-Neuf Wrapped seemed gold, wheat, sandy, and even stonelike, in a metaphorical metamorphosis to Niagara Falls in Paris.

John Howell is the editor of High Times, and a regular contributor to Artforum.