Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Wrapped Delights, Real and Imagined

The projects that never came to be are equally complex and fascinating, represented by detailed preparatory works including photomontages, drawings, collages and models. An early rejection was the National Gallery in Rome, which Christo prepared to wrap in 1967. A collage shows an artfully swaddled facade.

“The museum’s director nearly got permission,” said Patricia De Peuter, co-curator of the exhibition. It was not to be, but a year later, in 1968, Christo and Jeanne-Claude were able to realize their first wrapped building, the Kunsthalle in Bern, Switzerland. A model, a collage and a drawing by Christo show the plain-looking building transformed into something reminiscent of a finely draped Roman goddess.


A drawing of “Wrapped Reichstag” from 1995. The work is probably Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s signature achievement. Credit André Grossmann/Christo

Although they are only temporary, the projects cost millions of dollars to carry out. For the Reichstag, Christo and Jeanne-Claude had to raise $15 million, according to a spokesman from Christo’s office. “These projects have many dimensions,” the artist said, “like those required for urban planning of a bridge or skyscraper. Many people work on building them, like in construction. If you talk to an architect, you will see almost the same ratio of realized and not realized projects.”

Christo has lived in New York since 1964, and the exhibition has several models of projects for the city that were rejected, including ones for the Whitney Museum of American Art (at its old home on Madison Avenue, which is now the Met Breuer), a sculpture garden at MoMA, buildings at 20 Exchange Place and at 2 Broadway, and the former New York Times building at One Times Square.

Other unrealized plans on display include treatments of the Reformation Wall in Geneva; the Teatro Nuovo in Spoleto, Italy (rejected because of fire concerns); and the Ponte Sant’Angelo in Rome. A proposal to wrap the trees on the Champs-Élysées in Paris was turned down because the city authorities decided instead “to decorate the trees with electric Christmas lights,” according to the artists’ website.

Some ideas don’t die but find new homes, as the exhibition shows. A collage shows St. Stephen’s Green, a park in Dublin, which Christo said “was the perfect place for wrapped walkways,” an idea inspired by Japanese ceremonial gardens, which Christo and Jeanne-Claude first tried to create in 1969. “But we never succeeded,” he added. “Finally,” he said, “we found Kansas City,” and the idea came to fruition in Jacob L. Loose Park in 1978. The exhibition includes drawings and collages of the artists’ yellow paths, veering like a runway through the grass.

With that example in mind, could any of the rejected projects be revived?

“I would never go back to the skyscrapers in New York,” Christo said. “At the moment, I do not want to do buildings. There are some sites that I could return to. But I cannot tell you which ones now.”

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