Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Boundless at the Saatchi Gallery
As part of the Saatchi Gallery’s Season of Sculpture, this exhibition has transferred from Kunst Palast in Dusseldorf. It is a retrospective of the lifetime achievements of these two collaborators in art and life. The couple met in Paris in the late 1950s, where Christo had escaped to from communist Bulgaria, and vibed together until Jeanne-Claude’s death in 2009. Christo died in 2020 and signed off this exhibition before his passing.
Christo’s experiences under communism gave him a lifelong distrust of authority, shown by the shedding of his surname. He was apparently chastised by the authorities in Bulgaria for the fact his paintings depicting peasants that “did not look happy enough”.
Both artists started in more traditional mediums before their vision evolved into wrapping landmarks as though they were packages. Here we see plans for and images of epic pieces like Wrapped Coast in Australia (1968/69), Surrounded Islands (1983) in Miami/Florida, The Pont Neuf Wrapped in Paris (1985), The Umbrellas (1991), installed simultaneously in Japan and the USA, The Gates in Central Park, New York City (2005) and The Floating Piers at Lake Iseo in Italy (2016).
The detail of the show emphasises just how much planning and determination went into the pieces, which would be years in the making. The post-humous culmination of their lives’ work was the wrapping of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris in 2021. It was a surreal spectacle that turned a solid structure into one that wafted, susceptible to the vagaries of wind and changing light. The logistical side is mind-boggling: it took 1,200 workers to bring life the project to life, which then lasted for 16 days.
There are conceptual obstacles here. This is an exhibition about the logistics of the work rather than the work itself. As they are large-scale installations that are based on intrinsic architectural landmarks and ephemeral, the one actual piece of their signature art is a wrapped VW Volkswagen beetle. So this is largely a representation of the work rather than the work itself.
The last room shows designs and models for the, as yet, unrealised Mastaba in the desert of Abu Dhabi, a structure that would be bigger than the Great Pyramid at Giza, a tomb-like structure comprising 410,000 coloured oil barrels. This raises questions about the value of symbolism versus practicality. The installations have environmental aims, but maybe the environment would ultimately be better served by those oil drums being recycled? The emissions alone from the transportation that would be needed surely would not be optimal for the local ecosystem.
As a chronicle of a love story and a testament to singular ambition and vision, the exhibition is poignant.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Boundless is at the Saatchi Gallery from 15th November until 22nd January 2024. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.