The Software Behind the Wrapping
Christo & Jeanne-Claude: Projects 1963–2020

Like few other artists, Christo and Jeanne-Claude have influenced our ideas about art in public space with their spectacular wrappings such as “Wrapped Reichstag.” Christo died recently in New York at the end of May, a few days before his 85th birthday. An exhibition at the PalaisPopulaire documents all of the couple’s works and shows what lies behind their spectacular wrapping actions. It was to be the last show devoted to the artist during Christo’s lifetime.
“Artists make painting or drawings, and they sell them, and with the money they buy what they want,” Jeanne-Claude said to a New York bureaucrat during a preliminary meeting on The Gates. She continued: “With our money, we create projects. If Christo were to buy me a four million dollar diamond, this would be perfectly all right. But I don't happen to like diamonds. I prefer to have The Gates project, or a Running Fence, or a Valley Curtain.” This is just one of many documentary scenes in Antonio Ferrera's film montage Nomad of Art, which was shown on April 26, 2010, at the funeral service for Jeanne-Claude at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and which can be watched on the couple’s website. The film documents the incredible struggles that preceded their wrappings—gatherings of angry citizens worried about their farmland and their parks, endless debates with recalcitrant officials and conservative politicians. At one point, when Jacques Chirac, the mayor of Paris at the time, refuses to let them veil Pont Neuf bridge, Christo almost has a nervous breakdown and Jeanne-Claude begs him to take a tranquilizer in front of the camera. In 1984, after nine years of negotiations, the couple finally obtained permission for the project.

“Software” is what they called these phases, during which they sold drawings of their projects to finance them and negotiated on and on. Only then came the actual, equally elaborate realization of the often-monumental coverings—“the hardware.” The “software” stage could last several decades, as with the installation of the bright orange fabric components of The Gates in New York's Central Park or the wrapping of the Berlin Reichstag.

In 2021 Christo and Jeanne-Claude's most ambitious work, which took them 58 years to prepare, will be completed posthumously. In 1962, the couple published their first photomontage for wrapping the Arc de Triomphe. For the project, a total of 25,000 square meters of a specially coated silvery-blue, recyclable fabric and seven kilometers of red rope will be used. The Centre Pompidou is already showing Christo & Jeanne Claude – Paris! this year.

With Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Projects 1963-2020, Berlin's PalaisPopulaire is presenting an intimate exhibition exploring the creative DNA of the most popular artist couple of our time from the beginning of their careers. At the center of the show is the wrapping of the Reichstag, which 25 years ago transformed the Berlin parliament building into a unique work of art.

Many Berliners and visitors to the city still remember the metaphysical aura of the veiled building when the project was finally realized in 1995. Over 100,000 square meters of aluminum-coated plastic and over 15 kilometers of blue rope were needed to wrap and tie up the building. The way the material was draped made the effect dramatic, almost like the stage set of a Wagner opera, yet at the same time it looked light and fragile, like an surreal apparition. The works of Christo and Jeanne-Claude are barely tangible in their evanescence and transcendence. They impress solely due to their logistics, their size, and the endurance of this couple, who have become a kind of trademark like no other artist with the exception of Andy Warhol: Christo with his narrow face and glasses, Jeanne-Claude with her red mane of hair.

Behind the media-savvy side of the wrappings was an aspect that is often overlooked. The basis of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s projects was the notion of participation: The respective communities become involved in the debates and in the building of the elaborate constructions, for which local companies were commissioned. Probably never before did so many different social classes come into contact with abstract contemporary art so intensively. And while the wrappings conveyed an almost intangible beauty, and illustrated nothing, they touched on sensitive social issues—questions revolving around ownership, public and private space, ecology, the relationship between civilization and nature. And their urban works, in particular, engaged with the idea of the monument, with collective, historical memories. Even back when the Pont Neuf was veiled in 1985, the focus was on history, nationhood, and patriotism. The project triggered bitter debates, as did the Reichstag project in Berlin, which many German politicians rejected as irreverent.

Since 1971, Christo and Jeanne-Claude fought for the latter project, which was repeatedly blocked and boycotted. Only after the fall of the Berlin Wall did the debate get going, with great support from the then president of the Bundestag, Rita Süssmuth, and letters written by Christo and Jeanne-Claude to all 662 members of parliament. The most prominent opponents were Helmut Kohl and Wolfgang Schäuble, who admitted his error years later. But in 1995 this installation in reunited Berlin hit the nerve of the time. More than five million visitors from around the world came to see it.

The works in Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Projects 1963-2020 document how precisely the artists balanced out the respective architectural and geographical situation, how they experimented again and again with materials, colors, lacing, and draping. The works in the exhibition were brought together by Ingrid and Thomas Jochheim, who met Christo and Jeanne-Claude in 1994 and have been friends with them ever since. All the wrapping projects were supported exclusively through the sale of preliminary studies, original lithographs, and editions. Christo and Jeanne-Claude never let large companies sponsor them. Their actions can be compared to a grassroots movement, where a solid base of activists and supporters grows up that is continuously committed to the cause. The Jochheims are such supporters. Today, the collector couple from Recklinghausen is in possession of preliminary studies and unique pieces for all of the projects, from magazines wrapped in plastic created in 1963, to designs for the Store Fronts, replicated shop fronts covered with fabric, with which Christo conquered the New York art scene in 1965. At the end of the 1960s, together with Jeanne-Claude, he realized Wrapped Coast, his first major land art project in which a 2.4-kilometer-long strip of coast near Sydney was covered with 92,900 square meters of fabric. Other spectacular landscape projects followed, including a huge orange curtain that in 1972 covered a rocky canyon in Colorado, and the famous 40 km long Running Fence. From the air, the Surrounded Islands, which Christo and Jeanne-Claude bordered with magenta-colored strips of fabric off the coast of Miami in the early 1980s, looked like monumental waterlilies on water—a modern interpretation of Monet. And the 3,100 huge blue and yellow umbrellas that Christo and Jeanne-Claude installed in in 1991 for The Umbrellas, concurrently exhibited in Ibaraki, Japan, and California, also transformed landscapes into three-dimensional paintings.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Projects 1963-2020 shows the work behind these moments. “The 14 or 16 days in which the work is accessible to the public is not the period in which the work exists,” said Christo. “A great deal of energy is released during the realization of a project—you can feel the enormous dynamism when you stand in front of something that has taken so many years to develop.“ So in Berlin this other part of the work is now on display, not only for fans but for anyone who wants to experience the art of this extraordinary couple, who were born on the same day and worked together throughout their lives.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude
Projects 1963–2020

Until August 17, 2020
PalaisPopulaire, Berlin