Christo before Christo: Paris exhibition reveals artist’s earlier works

Long before scaling the heights of the Reichstag in Berlin or the Pont Neuf in Paris, the artist known as Christo started on a much smaller scale.

Having fled communist Bulgaria for Paris and working in a maid’s room, the impoverished refugee began creating his first wrapped sculptures using everyday objects such as cans, bottles and – when he found a bigger studio – old oil barrels.

Christo’s Wrapped Oil Barrels 1958–1959
Christo’s Wrapped Oil Barrels 1958–1959. Photograph: Serpentine Galleries © 1959 Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation

Today, two years after his death, some of the rare and rarely seen works, many of them creative experiments that would later find expression in far larger projects – including the wrapping of the Arc de Triomphe last October – feature in a new exhibition in Paris.

The event, at the Gagosian gallery, a short walk from the artist’s first studio, will display 25 artworks created by Christo before his collaboration with his wife, Jeanne-Claude, between 1958 and 1963.

Lorenza Giovanelli, the director of the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Studio based in New York, where the couple lived, said the exhibition provided a missing piece of the Christo puzzle.

“It’s a chance to see some of the items he created and experimented with before the iconic wrapped pieces. Everyone associates Christo with wrapping but here you realise how much he was influenced by the atmosphere he was surrounded with in Paris when he arrived from Bulgaria and saw this avant garde artistic work everywhere. From these items we can see the artistic journey and how he arrived at some of his seminal works.”

She added: “It’s a different Christo we see here to the one people know and are used to seeing. There was always a missing piece of the puzzle, how Christo got there and this is it. It is Christo before Christo.”

Partial view of Christo’s storeroom in the basement of Jeanne-Claude’s apartment at 4, avenue Raymond Poincaré Paris, 1960
Christo’s storeroom in the basement of Jeanne-Claude’s apartment at 4 Avenue Raymond Poincaré, Paris, 1960 Photograph: René Bertholo

Born Christo Vladimirov Javacheff in Bulgaria, the artist studied in Sofia but defected to the west in 1957, stowing away on a train from Prague to Vienna and on via Geneva to Paris, where he met Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon, who became his wife and artistic partner until her death in 2009. The couple moved to New York in 1964, spending their first three years there as illegal immigrants.

“The moment you look at these early works you cannot help being fascinated they have such a strong physical presence. And the exhibits include one of the very few barrel structures still existing because most of them got destroyed when Christo and Jeanne-Claude moved to New York,” Giovanelli said.

Vladimir Yavachev, Christo’s nephew, said: “These are pieces that are very rarely shown in public, but you can see a common thread through them and how he is playing with texture. You can see how very early on, from the late 50s, Christo was interested in the cylindrical shape, cans, barrels.”

Yavachev is overseeing the last Christo work of art conceived before his death in May 2020 aged 84, the Mastaba , a 150-metre (492ft) high, 300-metre-long structure made from 410,000 multicoloured steel barrels expected to be sited in the Liwa desert in the United Arab Emirates, approximately 100 miles south of Abu Dhabi.

  • Christo: Early Works 1958-1963 runs from 10 June to 8 October at the Gagosian in Paris


Source: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2022/jun/05/christo-paris-exhibition-earlier-works