Christo and Jeanne-Claude - 01 Jui. - 19 Oct. 2020
Christo (Christo Vladimirov Javacheff) and Jeanne-Claude (Jeanne-Claude Marie Denat), both born on 13 June 1935, in Gabrovo (Bulgaria) and Casablanca (Morocco) respectively, met in Paris at the age of 23. Christo fled Communist Bulgaria, passing through Prague, Vienna and Geneva, before settling in Paris in March 1958. He retained a mastery of classic disciplines from his training in the Academy of Fine Arts in Sofia, but constantly sought to surpass easel painting. Christo's Parisian years saw the establishment of his artistic language: work on relief surfaces, piling up and wrapping, the beginning of covered windows and, in collaboration with Jeanne-Claude, the development of monumental outdoor projects – which characterised the creative approach of the two artists.
The first part of the exhibition presents creations from the years 1958 to 1964, when the artists settled definitively in New York; the second part retraces all the stages of The Pont-Neuf Wrapped Parisian project, conducted from 1975 to 1985. In the middle of the visit, the film Christo in Paris (1990) by the Maysles brothers provides an account of the elaboration of this urban project while describing the biography of this exceptional couple, whose shared work produced some of the most spectacular works in the history of the 20th and 21st centuries.
On arriving in Paris, Christo made oil portraits on canvas of high society families in order to earn his living. While making these works, he was wrapping little cylindrical metal boxes and bottles with fabric stiffened with lacquer and bound them with string. This research, which went on to include furniture items, then barrels, constitutes what Christo calls his Inventory. He also confected Wrapping Surfaces, using paper, sometimes fabric, giving them an uneven character by crumpling and folding, which the lacquer then gelled and paint darkened in places. To this the artist added sand or dust to give them a bleak and worn look. These works constitute one of Christo's proposals in response to Parisian pictorial research at the time. But it was most of all Jean Dubuffet's matterist work that inspired a little-known series that is presented here for the first time, Les Cratères [The Craters]. The artist's vocabulary soon extended to barrels, piling them up in the form of columns and accumulations. In autumn 1961, in reaction to the recent erection of the Berlin Wall, he imagined blocking the rue Visconti in Paris with barrels, a project he brought to completion with the help of Jeanne-Claude on the evening of 27 June 1962, before being ordered by the police to dismantle his edifice. As early as 1961 Christo had envisaged wrapping a public Parisian building. And in 1962 he formed the wish to wrap the Arc de Triomphe, a project to be completed in 2021
It is not always easy to establish a precise chronology of Christo's artistic experiments in Paris. The Wrappings, the best-known aspect of the 1958-1964 period, were developed essentially as of 1960. Christo had a preference for fabric, initially crumpled and lacquered. Then, without abandoning his earlier research, he experimented with untreated/raw fabric. The artist then focussed his attention on associating a variety of textures, combining materials and colours. Ropes and strings were also chosen with precision. The Wrappings nevertheless remain mysterious in terms of content, the artist refusing to describe the objects hidden from view. Later, Christo covered certain objects only partly, particularly furniture. In 1960 he discovered polyethylene, a transparent plastic which also led him to other research: wrapping statues and live models.
Late in 1962, Christo took part in the "New Realists" exhibition at the Sidney Janis gallery in New York. In spite of the importance of this event for Christo, placed alongside famous Americans like Andy Warhol, he was mistakenly ranked in the presentation text of the catalogue as an artist who used the "ready-made" approach. In fact, Christo's approach was disconcerting: he could not be associated with the "ready-made" approach any more than with a comment on the question of wrapping in industrial society. In conclusion, the association of Christo with the "new realism" founded by Pierre Restany in October 1960 was purely temporary and he never really felt any affiliation for the group, although he was friendly with some of its members.
Before settling in New York with Jeanne-Claude in 1964, Christo began new research into windows and reconstituted shop fronts, which he concealed from the inside with paper or fabric. What was to become the Store Fronts series confirmed the artist's interest in the architectural dimension, a component part of the urban projects he later developed with his wife and artistic collaborator.
The project to wrap the Pont-Neuf is a magnificent example of this, and is the subject of the second part of the exhibition. As early as 1975, Christo and Jeanne-Claude developed the idea of wrapping the Pont-Neuf with polyamide fabric the colour of golden sandstone, which would cover the sides and vaults of the twelve arches of the bridge, the parapets, the kerbs and pavements (the public had to be able to walk on the fabric), the forty-four street lamps, the vertical sides of the embankment at the western tip of the Île de la Cité and the esplanade of the Vert-Galant.
By choosing the Pont-Neuf as an object to wrap, Christo and Jeanne-Claude wished not only to create a temporary work directly related to reality, but also to make their proposal a part of the history of this Parisian bridge as a source of inspiration for artists. After Turner, Renoir, Brassaï, Pissarro, Marquet and others, Christo and Jeanne-Claude went beyond the question of pictorial representation by effecting a transformation that underscored the architectural qualities of the bridge while renewing our relationship to the apprehension of its volumes and walking. Like all of the two artists' outdoor projects, The Pont-Neuf Wrapped, Paris, 1975-1985, was presented for a very brief period (from 22 September to 6 October 1985) and necessitated colossal human and technical resources. Not to mention the ten years of negotiations with the authorities and local residents. From the beginning, the artists financed their monumental projects exclusively through the sale of collages and preparatory drawings made by Christo. For each major project, they nevertheless make a point of preserving a significant group of these works, the model of the project, the documents testifying to the stages of its realisation, and engineering elements providing an account of the structure to protect the monument. This group for the Pont-Neuf wrapping is presented in the exhibition as an immense installation. It confirms the idea that Christo and Jeanne-Claude's urban projects are not limited to the moment of wrapping but commence with the first contacts and negotiations, thus forming part of the reality of life
By Sophie Duplaix
Chief Curator of the Contemporary collections, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre pompidou,
Curator of the exhibition