Great artists never die. This illusion of immortality certainly applies to the Bulgarian-born, New York-based creator Christo, who passed away on 31 May 2020 at the age of 84. (See here the report with his interview, about his show at Fondation Maeght in 2016).
This figure who, from 1994 onwards, would co-sign his monumental wrap works together with his wife Jeanne-Claude (1935-2009) will be present at least in spirit on 18 September 2021 – weather and public health regulations permitting – for the inauguration of the wrapping of the Arc de Triomphe.
Arc de Triomphe
300 tonnes of metal for the structure, 25,000m2 of bluish-silver fabric, arranged over the 50-metre-tall edifice constructed to glorify Napoleon… Together with his Mastaba project in Abu Dhabi, these are the two monumental works than are still able to be realized in the name of the great artist. The projects have benefited from in-depth studies, numerous drawings and models. Some of these studies, which are very aesthetically pleasing, allowed the artist to fund various projects while he was alive.
In Paris, the Arc de Triomphe operation is led by Christo’s nephew Vladimir Yavachev, who worked with them for 30 years. “The Arc de Triomphe wrap was conceived in 1962 but only proposed in 2017. We are able to carry out this project because the design along with all the technical details have been precisely calculated,” he explains. “Christo welcomed the fact that the air would circulate through the fabric, giving the impression of wind within the structure. We can make it happen because all the technical details and the design were all precisely planned out.”
Christo’s last exhibition also took place in Paris. It is still on view at the Cahiers d’Art gallery in Saint Germain des Près. Christo not only wrapped the whole space at 14 Rue du Dragon, which seems to be completely enclosed, but inside we also find historic pieces from the 1960s. Staffan Ahrenberg, the owner of Cahiers d’Art, explains the project:
At the time he used to wrap storefronts as isolated objects in their own right, among other things. “I enter the space and I gently disrupt it. I like to create new boundaries, new territories, new limits,” he said. These mysterious geometric pieces seem to be both a direct allusion to a consumer society rendered mute but also to minimalist art, which blossomed at around the same time in the United States.
Cahiers d’Art also presents unique paintings made in 2020, which feature the artist’s hand print, on sale for 22,000 euros. During the artist’s final interview a few days before his death, Christo is asked by Hans Ulrich Obrist about the origins of this work.
The couple collection
The Christo-Jeanne Claude estate – they have a son, Cyril – also chose Sotheby’s in Paris as the place to sell the couple’s collection, which had been amassed since the beginning of their career. The 376 lots are comprised of 29 works selling at auction on 17 February and the rest dispersed online between 8 and 18 February. It has a total estimate of 2.9 million euros. But the ensemble has more of an advantage in terms of its historical as opposed to financial value. As Lorenza Giovanelli from Christo’s studio explains, “it was all kept at the couple’s apartment, situated on the third floor of the building where they lived and worked in New York, on 48 Howard Street.”
The young Lorenza, who has collaborated with Christo since 2016, today impressively embodies the entire memory of the artist couple.
The market for Christo
The exhibition at Sotheby’s also presents various preparatory drawings for projects, including the last one made by the Bulgarian-born artist, which is not for sale, and depicts the Arc de Triomphe. Concerning the market for Christo, the Sotheby’s expert Stefano Moreni observes: “They used to sell works via galleries but also directly, to a network of collectors who supported him. To a certain extent he was a one of the first to invent a participatory funding system.”
But above all, Christo invented a unique language which magnifies forms and conceals their contents with an apparently simple gesture, as shown in the exhibition that ended in October 2020 at the Centre Pompidou. “I don’t know why I wrapped things,” commented the artist at the time. In market terms we observe a gap between the prices of his works at auction and in private sales. The record price, according to Artprice, is for a wrapped object from 1961 which sold for 481,500 euros in 2014. But Sotheby’s has just sold a large-scale preparatory work for the project “The Gate”, which took place in Central Park in New York in 2005, for around 1 million euros.
Lorenza Giovanelli observes that “Christo was a very prolific artist who worked every day.” We still don’t know the figures of the scale of his output”. The large-scale works are rarer and more in-demand. Four of them are to be presented on 17 February with estimates of 200,000 euros, including a “Pont Neuf Wrapped” dating from 1985.
Exchanges with friends
As for the remainder of the collection: “it was not conceived in the spirit of constituting a coherent ensemble,” explains Lorenza Giovanelli. “Most often it was a result of exchanges with friends.”
This is the case, for example, for a small blue monochrome by Klein (estimated at 100,000 euros). “Klein was initially a little sceptical about Christo. But that all changed when he married Rotraut. Jeanne-Claude offered her own Christian Dior wedding dress. Yves Klein knew that she was the daughter of General de Guillebon. He was very impressed. Next they created their collaborative works and Christo made their wedding portrait, only Klein died before it was finished…”
Fontana and Duchamp
The sale also contains a monochrome marked with a slash, “Concetto Spaziale”, from 1963 chosen by Jeanne-Claude along with a “Grand verre miniature” by Marcel Duchamp given after Duchamp’s death as a gift from his wife (estimated at 10,000 euros). “Duchamp often visited the couple at Howard Street,” reveals Lorenza Giovanelli. The work comes from the “Boites-en-valise” (Box in a Suitcase) series (a miniature portable resume of the artist’s work).
As an exception, Christo also acquired a remarkable bronze by Miro at the Maeght gallery in 1980, issued in two copies, which may well greatly exceed the 70,000 euro estimate. Its material, which is very stony in appearance, constitutes a raw assemblage of forms.
The work is not only a piece by the great Spanish artist; it also represents the visual predilections of the Bulgarian artist. A piece of contemporary art history.
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