With around 70 works, the exhibition traces the artistic development of Christo and Jeanne-Claude from the mid-1950s until Christo’s death in May 2020. For the first time, the early work created in France is presented in the context of works by international companions such as Arman, Jean Dubuffet, Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein, Niki de Saint Phalle and others. From the diverse field of reference of the avant-garde in Paris in the 1950s, it becomes clear how the work of the artist couple developed and what constitutes their artistic position. With their projects, Christo and Jeanne-Claude succeeded in expanding the boundaries of the art world and inspiring a broad public.
Image above: Christo und Jeanne-Claude vor dem Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin 1995 © Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2022 Foto: Wolfgang Volz
“This exhibition,” emphasises Felix Krämer, General Director of the Kunstpalast, “is the last exhibition that Christo agreed to shortly before his death in May 2020. I am delighted that we can realise this presentation here 60 years after Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s first stays in Düsseldorf and the Rhineland”.
The exhibition presents the most important projects of the artist couple in 10 thematic rooms – from the Iron Curtain in Paris in 1962 to the still unrealised Mastaba in Abu Dhabi. It begins with Christo’s early work and his first artistic works in Paris. It was here that Christo Vladimirov Javacheff, born in 1935, educated at the Sofia Art Academy and a refugee from Bulgaria, came into contact with the works of various international female colleagues. He had a close exchange with individual women artists, especially with the artist group Les Nouveaux Réalistes. In Paris in 1958, Christo met Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon, also born in 1935, while executing a portrait commission. “When Christo and Jeanne-Claude developed their first works, Paris was still the centre of the international avant-garde,” emphasises Kay Heymer, curator of the exhibition. “They could not have found a better place to form their own artistic language. In the exhibition, we show with selected examples of their early works together with their sources of inspiration and companions how this process went from the beginnings to their complete independence.”
From the end of the 1950s, Christo cultivated contacts with galleries and collectors in the Rhineland. He became friends with Nam June Paik, Joseph Beuys and the ZERO artists Heinz Mack, Otto Piene and Günther Uecker. Christo’s first solo exhibition ever took place in Cologne in 1961 at the Haro Lauhus Gallery. In 1963, he presented Verhüllter VW-Käfer (Veiled VW Beetle) at the Schmela Gallery in Düsseldorf, followed a year later by the group of works Ladenfronten (Shop Fronts).
The exhibition shows the most important projects realised by Christo and JeanneClaude, including Shrouded Coast in Australia (1968/69), Fringed Islands (1983) in Miami/Florida, Shrouded Pont-Neuf in Paris (1985), the umbrellas installed simultaneously in Japan and the USA (1991), The Gates in New York’s Central Park (2005) and The Floating Footbridges in Lake Iseo in Italy (2016). For the artist couple, who accepted neither sponsorship nor donations to finance their elaborate art projects, the sale of drawings, sketches, graphics and collages with which Christo visualised the planned projects became the decisive financial basis for realisation. Jeanne-Claude’s communication talent was also significant, as was the perseverance of the artist duo in pursuing their goals, the realisation of which could sometimes drag on for decades. “Christo and Jeanne-Claude were a pair of artists at eye level. Unique, vibrant and never tired of believing in their dreams. The two were not interested in the art market, made themselves independent and generated a kind of ‘crowdfunding’ for their projects through their large fan community,” highlights co-curator Sophie-Marie Sümmermann. “I am delighted that we can offer a new look at this extraordinary pair.”
Two of the projects shown in the exhibition are highlights in the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude: the wrapping of the Reichstag in Berlin and the wrapping of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. As early as 1961, the artist couple had been working on the idea of wrapping a public building. From the 1970s onwards, Christo created drawings with which he visualised the wrapping of the Reichstag. After extensive debates and a long approval process, the wrapping of the political building was realised in 1995.
In studies and sketches, the exhibition presents the as yet unrealised mastaba project for Abu Dhabi, which, if realised, would exceed the dimensions of the Pyramid of Giza and be on display indefinitely as a monument to the creativity of Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
In addition to Christo’s works, the following artists are represented in the exhibition: Arman, Alberto Burri, César, Jean Dubuffet, Lucio Fontana, Raymond Hains, Yves Klein, Jacques Mahé de la Villeglé, Piero Manzoni, Arnulf Rainer, Niki de Saint Phalle, Daniel Spoerri, Antoni Tàpies, Jean Tinguely and Wolf Vostell.
The photographer Wolfgang Volz, who has been documenting Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s international projects since 1972 in close collaboration with the artist couple and with exclusive rights, is also represented.
The exhibition is made possible thanks to the generous support of Ingrid and Thomas Jochheim. The collector couple, who live in Recklinghausen and Berlin and are friends of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, own one of the world’s most extensive collections of works by the artist duo and are supporting the exhibition as the main lenders.
Curator: Kay Heymer, Head of Modern Art, Kunstpalast
Co-curator: Sophie-Marie Sümmermann, Kunstpalast
Wednesday, 7. September 2022 until Sunday, 22. January 2023