Unwrapped, the Hidden World of Christo and Jeanne-Claude

By Roxane Zand

C hristo Vladimirov Javacheff (1935–2020) and Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon (1935–2009), known as Christo and Jeanne-Claude, were artists noted for their large-scale, site-specific environmental installations, often large landmarks and landscape elements wrapped in fabric. Born on the same day, the pair developed a brand that became synonymous with monumental, visually impressive projects that took years or even decades of careful preparation. The artists refused grants, scholarships, donations or public money, instead financing the work via the sale of their own artwork. Their projects contained no deeper meaning than their immediate aesthetic impact; their purpose being simply joy, beauty, and new ways of seeing the familiar. The landscapes and varied sites of the world were their canvas, spanning the globe from North America to Japan, via the Middle East.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, The London Mastaba, Serpentine Lake, Hyde Park 2016–18. Photo: Wolfgang Volz © The Estate of Christo V. Javacheff.

Few Londoners will have missed the eye-catching London Mastaba, the temporary floating installation exhibited from June to September 2018 on The Serpentine. The installation consisted of 7,506 oil barrels, in the shape of a mastaba, a form of an early bench in use in ancient Mesopotamia, with a flat roof and inward sloping sides. Less known is the Abu Dhabi Mastaba project conceived in 1977 as the largest sculpture in the world and the artists’ only permanent large-scale work. Once executed, it would consist of 410,000 multi-colored barrels to form a mosaic of bright sparkling colours, echoing Islamic architecture. At a monumental height of150m, the designated inland site is in Al Gharbia 160 km (100 miles) of Abu Dhabi, near the oasis of Liwa. Christo and Jeanne-Claude's relationship with Abu Dhabi dates to 1979 when they first visited the Emirate. Their longstanding friendship with the people of Abu Dhabi resulted in their establishing the annual Christo Prize. The region plans a tribute to the artists later this year.

Christo, The Mastaba of Abu Dhabi, Project for United Arab Emirates, Scale model, 1979

Bulgarian and French by birth, global citizens by nature, the two artists led a fascinating life enriched by friendships with renowned 20th-century artists (Warhol, Miro, Oldenberg), famous personalities and cultural figures. Their eclectic and deeply creative lifestyle was reflected in their immediate environment, an estate which now comes for sale from their New York studio to Sothebys on Feb 17 for discerning buyers – whether from the West or from their beloved Gulf region - who would treasure this extraordinary legacy.

Through nearly 400 lots that showcase the range of their artistic inspirations, their relationships, and the famed studio where their artistic vision was conceived for the world, collectors can select from a special selection of pieces that commemorate the couple. Inclusive of several works by the two artists spanning their multi-decade practice, and featuring many of their most well-known public projects, (The Pont Neuf Wrapped, Project for Paris, and The Umbrellas, Joint Project for Japan and USA, as well as their famed Package and Store Front series from the 1960s), the sale promises to offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share in the legacy of these visionaries.

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