Instagram

THE (UN)FULFILLED DREAMS OF

CHRISTO AND JEANNE-CLAUDE

 

Two retrospectives in Berlin and Paris explore the ephemeral art of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, art which exists incessantly at the intersection of the unrealized and the realized – an idea and its materialization. 

One of the first objects we encounter at the exhibition „Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Projects 1963-2020” at the newly reopened Palais Populaire in Berlin is an empty oil barrel. It is surrounded by an aggregation of photographs, large-format drawing tableaux, editions and prints meticulously gathered throughout the years by Ingrid and Thomas Jochheim. Although the collectors have known Christo and Jeanne-Claude since 1994, the exhibition encompasses almost the entire body of work of the two artists from the early 1960s to the present day. 

 

Christo and Jeanne Claude during the installation of Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin 1995 photo: Wolfgang Volz © Christo, Wolfgang Volz

Christo and Jeanne Claude during the installation of Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin 1995 photo: Wolfgang Volz © Christo, Wolfgang Volz

 

The exhibited oil barrel – a red, steel industrial container – is much more than a showpiece or a tangible example of a sculptural material used by Christo and Jeanne-Claude since 1961. It epitomizes their art in general that oscillates between the so-called ”software” and ”hardware” – as artists described it. The ”software” state is the time during which works of art exist as preparatory drafts and in the imagination of the artists, whereas the ”hardware” refers to the moments when projects are physically constructed and eventually exhibited. 

Over 7 thousand horizontally stacked barrels were used to create „The London Mastaba” that floated on the Serpentine Lake. This enormous temporary sculpture was built in 2018, yet its concept was conceived two years earlier. Prior to that, Christo and Jeanne-Claude had imagined many similar barrel-structures in various sizes and locations, all of which were not executed – e.g. ”Houston Mastaba” from the late 1960s, the ”Otterlo Mastaba” (1973) and the grandiose ”The Mastaba” for Abu Dhabi, a work in progress. The artist couple had sought a suitable site for the latter since 1977. The search brought them to a desertic inland of Al Gharbia. „The Mastaba” was considered the largest sculpture in the world, comprising 410 thousand multi-colored barrels, and more imporatantly, if erected, it will be Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s only permanent large-scale work.

Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped (Project for Paris) Place de l'Etoile – Charles de Gaulle, 2019 © Christo

Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped (Project for Paris) Place de l’Etoile – Charles de Gaulle, 2019 © Christo

The Floating Piers (Project for Lake Iseo, Italy), 2014, photo: André Grossmann © Christo

The Floating Piers (Project for Lake Iseo, Italy), 2014, photo: André Grossmann © Christo

The Gates (Project for Central Park, New York City), 2004 photo: Argenis Apolinario Photography © Christo, Wolfgang Volz

The Gates (Project for Central Park, New York City), 2004 photo: Argenis Apolinario Photography © Christo, Wolfgang Volz

 

In times when technology enables constructing artworks of colossal-scale a fundamental question comes to mind: what is the aim of grandiosity? Large size seems to have less and less to do with the intensification of experience and much more with the flashiness exeplified by humongous Jeff Koons’ sculptures. In 1979 Christo admited that building ”The Mastaba” is its sole purpose. Nevertheless, the mania grandiosa of Christo and Jeanne-Claude is rarely just futile and megalomaniacal. Their emballage along with land-art projects such as ”Surrounded Islands” (1980-1983) or ”The Gates” (2005) were focused on natural habitat and people’s closest environment. The ”Umbrellas” (1984-1991) addresed the historical relations between Japan and the USA, while ”Wall of Oil Barrels – The Iron Curtain” (1961-1962) became a political statement that had coincided with the construction of the Berlin Wall and protests against the war in Algeria.

It is hard to determine which tense should be used in order to describe „The Mastaba” in Abu Dhabi. On the one hand this bold project of gargantuan proportion have lived only on paper drafts for almost 40 years now, but on the other hand some preliminaries to build it have already been undertaken. The ephemeral art of Christo and Jeanne-Claude exists at the intersection of an idea and its materialization, of the unrealized and the realized. This also applies to the yet unfulfilled vision of wrapping the Arc the Triomphe in Paris. In the early 1960s Christo made several studies, including a photomontage of the covered monument seen from the Avenue Foch. Almost 60 years later, the project will finally be concretized. Parisian Arc de Triomphe will be wrapped in 25 thousand square meters of recyclable polypropylene fabric in silvery blue, and 7 thousand meters of red rope. Unfortunately, Christo could not predict the obstacle that would postpone the long-awaited project. Due to Covid-19 pandemic we will not be able to see the l’emballage de l’Arc de Triomphe until next year.

 

The Mastaba (Project for Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates ) drawing 2013 in two parts, photo: André Grossmann © 2013, Christo

The Mastaba (Project for Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates ) drawing 2013 in two parts, photo: André Grossmann © 2013, Christo

 

Wrapping the French monument accompanies the exhibition at the Centre Pompidou entitled ”Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Paris!”. Unlike the Berlin presentation, this one retraces artists’ years in Paris from 1958 to 1964. During these seven formative years Christo broke free from the boundaries of the painting, as he and his wife began formulating the emballage strategy by wrapping everyday objects (”Empaquetages”) and creating temporary artworks in public spaces – from barricading the Rue Visconti with barrels to covering the Pont-Neuf. Currently closed, the Parisian retrospective of Christo and Jeanne-Claude will reopen as soon as the Centre Pompidou is able to welcome visitors again. The length of the show is going to be extended by several weeks until the beginning of fall 2020.

Fluctuating between the realized and the unrealized, the art of Christo and Jeanne-Claude transforms what might be considered ostentatious, showy and overwhelming into something transient, fugitive and meditative. As Christo explains: “All our temporary projects are very nomadic, in transition and always moving. They are once-in-a-lifetime and only remain in our memories. This quality is an essential part of our work. It’s very human: nothing lasts forever, this is the beauty of being alive.”

Written by Wojciech Delikta – art historian, critic, member of the Polish Section AICA, contributing editor at Vogue Polska.

Edited by Marysia Sołyga

Installation view, Exhibition ”Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Projects 1963-2020”, Palais Populaire, Berlin (6.5.-17.8.2020), photo: Mathias Schormann © Christo

Installation view, Exhibition ”Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Projects 1963-2020”, Palais Populaire, Berlin (6.5.-17.8.2020), photo: Mathias Schormann © Christo

Installation view, Exhibition ”Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Projects 1963-2020”, Palais Populaire, Berlin (6.5.-17.8.2020), photo: Mathias Schormann © Christo

Installation view, Exhibition ”Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Projects 1963-2020”, Palais Populaire, Berlin (6.5.-17.8.2020), photo: Mathias Schormann © Christo

Installation view, Exhibition ”Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Projects 1963-2020”, Palais Populaire, Berlin (6.5.-17.8.2020), photo: Mathias Schormann © Christo

Installation view, Exhibition ”Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Projects 1963-2020”, Palais Populaire, Berlin (6.5.-17.8.2020), photo: Mathias Schormann © Christo

Return to the homepage