Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Final Project Arrives amid Growing Market Interest
Fabric panels are unfurled in front of the outer walls of the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, 2021. © Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation. Photo by Benjamin Loyseau. Courtesy of the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation.
Beginning Saturday, the 164-foot-tall Arc de Triomphe in Paris will be completely hidden from the public, draped in nearly 270,000 square feet of resplendent, aluminum-coated blue polypropylene fabric and bound by almost two miles of red polypropylene rope to highlight the key features of its imposing architecture. The hulking monument’s wrapping will be the 24th completed monumental outdoor installation by the late husband-and-wife duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude—six decades after the idea was first conceived.
Between 1962 and 1963, Christo created a photomontage of one of his iconic wrapped packages in place of the Arc de Triomphe, as seen from Avenue Foch. He likely never imagined, as a stateless foreign refugee, that this vision would one day be realized. The monumental wrapping is significant for being Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s first posthumous project—the artists always insisted that their artworks in progress be continued after their deaths.
Christo, Wrapped Public Building (Project for Arc de Triomphe, Paris), 1963. © Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation and J. Paul Getty Trust. Photo by Shunk-Kender. Courtesy of the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation and J. Paul Getty Trust.
The logistics for this €14 million ($16.6 million) project are mind-boggling, requiring a team of approximately 1,000 people; 312 tons of steel for the ground-level anchors and metallic frame protecting the building’s statues, cornices, and vaults; an installation that started on July 15th with around-the-clock construction in three eight-hour shifts by 150 workers; and five and a half weeks for dismantling a creation that will only be up for 16 days. Visitors are welcome to walk on the fabric covering the rooftop terrace, and the roundabout will be closed to vehicular traffic on the weekends.
“It will be like a living object that will move in the wind and reflect the light,” Christo said in 2020. “With its moving folds, the monument’s surface will become sensual. People will want to touch the Arc de Triomphe.”
A unique model
Christo, Arc de Triomphe #2, 2019. © Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation. Photo by ArtDigital Studio. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.
As with all of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s projects, L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped is free and open to the public (visitors who want to enter the monument and climb to its terrace will have to pay €16, or about $19). The project has received no public funding, foundation money, or sponsorships, and was fully financed through the sale of Christo’s original artworks, including preparatory studies, collages, scale models, lithographs, and works from the 1950s and ’60s. Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s unconventional and challenging funding model made them unique among artists working at their scale, affording them complete creative control to pursue their singular aesthetic vision with total independence.
“Our work of art is a scream of freedom” was their legendary maxim, and they never accepted commissions. Christo’s drawings of a project over several years or even decades, both artistic and documentary, served to refine his initial concepts until the final result crystallized, revealing the project’s evolution and the duo’s extensive research and profound knowledge of the site and surrounding environment. L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped will actually be among the pair’s fastest projects to come to fruition, from early discussions in 2017 to gaining official approval in 2019 so the installation could accompany the duo’s 2020 exhibition at the Centre Pompidou. Because Christo had had relatively little time to produce drawings, photomontages, and collages, their rarity increased their value.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Running Fence, 1972–76. © Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation. Courtesy of the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation.
Obsessed with altering entire environments, Christo and Jeanne-Claude orchestrated colossal projects, intervening directly and ephemerally on buildings, monuments, or even landscapes. Their completed works include Wrapped Coast (1968–69) near Sydney, Valley Curtain in Colorado (1970–72), Running Fence in California (1972–76), The Pont Neuf Wrapped in Paris (1975–85), The Gates in New York’s Central Park (1979–2005), The Floating Piers on Italy’s Lake Iseo (2014–16), and The London Mastaba on London’s Serpentine Lake (2016–18). They loved mounting projects that seemed impossible, and which then disappeared forever.
“Something that’s there for a long time, you have no rush to go see it, but each of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s projects is a once-in-a-lifetime experience you don’t want to miss because you will never see it again,” said Jonathan Henery, Jeanne-Claude’s nephew, chief officer of the CVJ Corporation, and the manager of the duo’s studio.
Belated auction appreciation
Christo, Arc de Triomphe Large #7, n.d. © Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation. Photo by ArtDigital Studio. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Concurrently with the installation that Simon Shaw, vice chairman of fine arts at Sotheby’s in New York, described as “one of the most exciting public works of art to happen this year,” Sotheby’s Paris will hold “The Final Christo,” a selling exhibition running from September 17th through October 3rd and featuring 25 original, highly detailed, and often oversized Christo drawings that tell the story of the Arc de Triomphe wrapping, captured from different angles and at all times of day. Mixing maps, architectural plans, photographs, engineering drawings, and fabric samples with pastel, paint, and collage, they are the last works he created on paper in his New York studio from 2017 to 2020. Sotheby’s is already seeing huge appetite for the works—which are priced from $50,000 to over $5 million—from collectors worldwide.
“Not at all surprisingly, there is an enormous amount of excitement around the Arc de Triomphe wrapping, which is naturally impacting Christo’s market,” Shaw said. “We have already seen new benchmarks for his works at auction this year. It is no secret that his oeuvre has been underappreciated at auction, but now he is getting the profile and recognition he deserves.”
Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Surrounded Islands (Project for Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida), 1983. © Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation. Courtesy of Christie’s.
Christo, The Mastaba (project for Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates), 2013. © Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation. Courtesy of Christie’s.
Not only has there been great interest around the forthcoming L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, but also for the historic works by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who have been auction fixtures since the 1970s. Sotheby’s Paris’s white-glove, 373-lot “Unwrapped” sale of the couple’s collection last February reached €9.2 million ($11.1 million)—more than double its high estimate. It saw fierce competition for many original pieces, including two drawings, both titled The Umbrellas, Joint Project for Japan and USA (1991) and acquired by American collectors, which soared past their estimates to sell for €1.7 million and €1.2 million ($2 million and $1.4 million), surpassing the previous auction record for Christo. A sculptural Package (1961) went for €520,700 ($631,000), or more than three times its high estimate. Prior to the sale, the duo’s auction record was €481,500 ($600,000) for a 1961 wrapped object sold at a Christie’s Paris sale in 2014.
“For a long time, the most expensive works at auction were the historical works from the 1960s made of wrapped objects,” said Etienne Sallon, a specialist in post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s Paris. “They were rarer and extremely precious in art history, directly linked to the rise of Pop art. More recently, the auction market has been focused on large-scale works from very visual series such as ‘The Umbrellas’ or ‘The Gates,’ as they are impressive, extremely detailed, and beautiful.” All original works on paper were produced by Christo alone before the completion of a project, while he and Jeanne-Claude are recognized as co-authors of each of their monumental outdoor installations and early wrapped objects and storefronts.
The Umbrellas (1984–91) was the pair’s most expensive project at $26 million and the only one to have taken place on two continents simultaneously, which also earned them popularity in Asia. Today, an exceptional number of Christo’s works are in museums and private collections in Japan, more than any other Asian country.
“The market for Christo and Jeanne-Claude has always been quite strong and very international,” Sallon said. “The auction market and demand for their works have also been driven by their different public projects, but we’ve seen an acceleration and increase of the market since Jeanne-Claude passed away [in 2009] and even more after Christo’s death [in 2020].”
Born in 1935 in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, Christo Vladimirov Javacheff fled from his native country in 1956, passing through Prague, Vienna, and Geneva before arriving in Paris in 1958. He worked out of a maid’s room at 14 Rue de Saint-Sénoch, a short walk—right past the Arc de Triomphe—from his room at 8 Rue Quentin-Bauchart. At the time, he sold his works for prices between $40 and $100. To make a living, he also painted commissioned portraits for $200 to $300 apiece. He met Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon—born on the same day as him, in Casablanca—when he was hired to paint her mother’s portrait. They began mounting temporary artworks in public spaces in 1961, starting with Dockside Packages and Stacked Oil Barrels in Cologne, Germany. They married in 1962 and moved to New York two years later, where they would remain until their deaths. Today, their creations are in the permanent collections of major museums the world over, including the Tate and Victoria and Albert Museum in London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Guggenheim Museum, and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles; the Uffizi in Florence; the Hara Museum ARC in Tokyo; the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art in Seoul; and the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.
Acting as their own art dealers, Christo and Jeanne-Claude sold their works to collectors, museums, galleries, and dealers. “They really controlled their own market,” Henery said. “They never had exclusive representation, and the estate still doesn’t. Christo could keep works aside and never let anyone see them because he thought maybe later they would go to an important collection or museum. If he saw a collector who had the right eye, he would show a particular piece to that person, which we’re trying to do now because we have an inventory of works from the late 1950s. We have to be very careful that they go to all the right places. We need to protect the legacy of the artist and, from an educational and financial standpoint, to make sure we don’t undersell by dumping things too quickly, as often happens when the artist is deceased. It’s very unpredictable what the market will allow, and you have to keep up with it because you never want to push yourself out of the market or be the dummy who gives your stuff away. We’re adjusting all the time.”
An addictive oeuvre
One gallery that has represented Christo since 1984 is Guy Pieters, via its spaces in Knokke, St. Tropez, Saint Paul de Vence, and Paris. In its first significant exhibition with him, in 1989, works from the “Umbrellas” series were priced at as much as $110,000 each. In the late 1990s, the gallery sold a large-scale work of The Gates for $220,000, and recently, drawings of L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped for as much as €1.5 million ($1.8 million) each, the highest price the gallery has sold a Christo artwork.
The gallery’s clients for works by Christo are mainly Belgian, German, and French, generally between 35 and 65 years old, and willing to spend anywhere from €60,000 to €1.2 million ($71,000 to $1.4 million) on a piece. “From the early 1980s, demand for their works increased significantly,” Guy Pieters said. “Prices began to rise in the mid-1990s. International interest grew and large private collections of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s work were created.…In the last 10 years, results at auction have also been on the rise.”
Because of personal affinity for the pair’s style and how they work, people involved in a given project (from employees and construction workers to architects and lawyers) often come back to work on the next one. Likewise, loyal collectors snap up pieces from each project as a way to become an integral part of it and to support future installations. “They become addicted,” Henery said. “I know so many of them who can’t stop. Every time they can get an original Christo, they have to try and get it.”
German collectors Ingrid and Thomas Jochheim, who first met the couple in 1995 on the occasion of the Wrapped Reichstag in Berlin (1971–95), have attended every installation since and own artworks from all the duo’s realized projects, including 30 unique drawings, special-edition objects, and photos.
“We are still looking for more, especially the very old works,” Ingrid Jochheim said. “Prices have been rising a lot in the last few years. That’s justified because they became more well known, their projects had more and more attention, and Christo did [fewer artworks] per project, as the time was shorter. For example, from Wrapped Reichstag, there exist about 600 drawings, as it took 24 years until they got permission to build it. From The Floating Piers, there exist about 60 drawings, as Christo had only two years from permission to realization. From L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, even less.”
She continued: “There was something amazing about their vision, their big thinking, and their courage to give everything for their dreams, which, on first view, seemed crazy, impossible, and senseless. They always said these works happened only because they wanted to make them happen and see them—all the better if they gave pleasure to somebody else, too.”
Annely Juda Fine Art in London, which has represented the artists for the past half-century, ever since the 1971 exhibition “Projects not Realized,” has held 12 Christo and Jeanne-Claude exhibitions. “In the early 1970s, they were very busy making projects and we sold a lot of preparatory collages and drawings; there was good and healthy demand, as the works were not that expensive,” said gallerist David Juda. “The art market for Christo has evolved, and the works have become much more expensive in the last 25 years.”
Having put important early pieces in notable collections, the gallery is currently selling pieces like Packed Supermarket Cart (1963) and Wrapped Paintings (1968) for £1 million ($1.4 million) each. “Collectors come from all over the world, especially from the U.S., Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France, and Korea,” Juda said. “Age groups are younger today; the early collectors are obviously now much older.” L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped is poised to expose their work to a new generation of potential collectors.
“Christo had a very loyal collecting base principally in Europe and the U.S., and today we are seeing this expand significantly with new interest from all corners of the globe,” Shaw said, adding that, since the beginning of 2020, Sotheby’s has had bidders from 20 different countries—including the U.S., France, Germany, Italy, the U.K., Singapore, Japan, and Australia—competing for Christo pieces. “Interestingly, young collectors of urban and land art are coming to his work, alongside collectors of classic modernism who recognize his extraordinary technical ability and imagination.”
Christo, The Umbrellas (Joint project for Japan and USA), 1991. © Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.
More than half (54 percent) of the participants in Sotheby’s “Unwrapped” auction were bidding with the house for the first time, while 40 percent were under 40 years of age. “Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s legacy undoubtedly extends beyond the most established art collectors,” Shaw noted. “Their projects captured the imagination of so many who experienced their installations. Across the sale, there were offerings estimated at entry-level prices to also provide an opportunity for aspiring collectors to acquire affordable pieces.”
The enthusiastic response from an ever-growing set of collectors shows that although the couple’s installations are deliberately fleeting, they have become eternal both in the collective imagination and, through Christo’s extraordinary original works, in the art market.