“Do you know that I don’t have any artworks that exist? Only the preparatory drawings are left, giving my works an almost legendary character.”
For every monumental sculpture that Christo and Jeanne-Claude realize there are dozens of projects that never see the light of day—at least not straightaway. It took 24 years of patient lobbying to finally see the harnessed polypropylene of the Wrapped Reichstag shimmering on a crisp Berlin morning in late June, 1995. Cocooning the intricate structure of the building, the once imposing German Parliament became airy and fragile. Lasting barely a fortnight, it was a wonderful example of the transformative effect Christo’s and Jeanne-Claude’s enveloping membranes can have on a building, especially one with such profound symbolic significance.
The artist first started exploring his aesthetic vocabulary with Project for a Wrapped Public Building in 1961, a proposal to cover with fabric and cables a parliamentary edifice in Paris. Although this project never got off the ground, Christo was able to demonstrate his extraordinary gift as a draughtsman by releasing a limited edition print. Serving a dual purpose, each original produced print disseminates the artist’s ideas and raises funds for the staggering costs of the projects. Yet more than that, these prints are an astonishing connection between the Bulgarian artist’s grand designs and their first inception—that first thrilling rush of inspiration.
In many ways Christo’s unrealized projects are the most fascinating of all, offering delicious insights into his creative vision and leaving us piqued with anticipation for the finished work. Christo’s lithograph of a Wrapped Fountain—yet to be realized—combines a visual imagining of the project alongside more technical drawings that highlight the complexity of the fountain’s actual architecture. Resembling a silver ball gown, the sketched Wrapped Fountain is both transformed and sensual, elegantly poised in the bustling setting of a hot Barcelona night.
His lifelong partner and collaborator, his wife Jeanne-Claude, was the driving organizational force and her death in 2009 left an unfillable hole for Christo. Famously, they never caught the same plane together to ensure that if an accident happened “the project could not die—so they would survive even if one of us didn't.” At 80 years of age Christo shows no signs of slowing down. More driven and active than ever, he is convinced eating “a bulb of garlic every morning, peeled and chopped” has kept him healthy.
Although the public works can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, the artists have always stayed outside of the gallery system, refusing to compromise their vision and keeping themselves free from external pressures. By far their longest unrealized project is the Mastaba, 40 years in the making it is a monumental edifice of stacked barrels intended for a desert location near Abu Dhabi. With approval already granted this mammoth sculpture will, alongside their limited editioned prints, prove to be their only permanent works and a lasting monument to Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s unique vision.