Christo and Jeanne-Claude have multiplied their price in the art market by eight in a matter of months. The death of the Bulgarian artist – 11 years after his life partner – on the last day of May 2020 and the announcement of the posthumous packaging of the most famous icon of the city of Paris, the Arc de Triomphe, have made it possible for the money from Collectors see a benefit in his ephemeral, conceptual and public work. Three things investing in art hates.
Everything changed last February. Sotheby’s put the artist couple’s collection of private art on sale in 373 lots. Pieces by Andy Warhol, Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana or Marcel Duchamp appeared. The auction house estimated that it would get 4.2 million euros for the set, less than half of what they managed to raise after two days of sale. The most striking flood was carried out by Christo himself: someone paid 1.7 million euros for one of the preparatory drawings he made of the 1,760 yellow umbrellas six meters high and almost nine in diameter that he placed in a valley in California (USA). ). Sotheby’s had calculated that they would not exceed 300,000 euros for it and it was eight times higher than the estimate of the experts.
The installation of the umbrellas happened at the same time in American and Japanese lands. In the Ibaraki valley he opened 1,340 of blue color. Everything was ready for the more than 3,000 to be deployed in unison in both countries and remain open for 18 days. Sotheby’s thought that no one would pay more than 300,000 euros for the preparatory drawing of the blues and it sold for 1.2 million euros.
A plastic art
The next day 17 Sotheby’s Paris will return to the load with the sale of 25 pieces on his last works. They will not be the images that bear witness to six decades drawing a dream that he could not fulfill in life. On the 18th, after his workshop finishes the process that Christo started, the Arc de Triomphe will be presented, packed with 25,000 square meters of silver-blue recyclable polypropylene fabric and tied with 3,000 meters of red rope. Any visitor who passes to see the ‘new’ arch built in 1836 by order of Napoleon Bonaparte to perpetuate the memory of the victories of the French armies, after defeating the Russian-Austrian forces at the Battle of Austerlitz (1805), will be presented with free samples of the fabric with which the milestone has been hidden. A piece of plastic, an icon to adore.
The last ‘package’ of Christo and Jeanne-Claude should have been tied in 2020, at the same time that the Parisian Center Pompidou inaugurated the retrospective Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Paris! The coronavirus postponed everything. Now one of the cameras that look at Place Charles de Gaulle and focus on one of the most famous monuments in the world, has broadcast the montage live since last July 15. The steel structures that protect the reliefs and give the shape expected by the artists were ready at the end of August.
Between the 12th and the 17th, fabrics and ropes will already be prepared for the inauguration of the work that will die in 16 days, and will last until October 3. The couple of artists had begun to dream about this intervention in 1962 and in their last interview they said that they did not obtain permission from the authorities at the time. Christo has made a work of art out of tedious red tape. To cover the Pont Neuf in Paris (in 1985) he spent ten years. For the Reichstag in Berlin (in 1995), 25 years because it was rejected up to three times. “It’s not patience! Jeanne Claude always said it was passion!” She explained in the talk given to the Center Pompidou at the end of March 2020, a few months before the opening of her major retrospective exhibition.
In the conversation he recognized a fact that had never happened to him: the authorization to pack the Arc de Triomphe was suddenly granted. After six decades. He barely had a year and a half to prepare the production of the assembly and most importantly: “To create the works whose sale would allow the intervention,” he said. The budget for the action amounts to 14 million euros and the French will not pay them.
When Paris announced that Christo would hide the Arc de Triomphe, Sotheby’s partnered with the artist’s company to organize the sale that was to bring the preparatory sketches of his latest creations to the market. The Final Christo will put on sale 25 of those methodical and realistic drawings about his dreams. But not from the Arc de Triomphe. Prices range from € 150,000 to € 2.5 million. According to Simon Shaw, vice president of Sotheby’s, the packaging of the Parisian icon “will be the artistic event of the year.”
Christo explained that all the sketches he had made on the walk about the work had already been sold to finance other projects. They always acted in the same way to maintain freedom and independence. They didn’t want sponsorships, grants, or volunteer work. It depended on the administrations to receive the authorization, but not money. He preferred the market: “In the eighties I even made a very elaborate collage edition with fabric. Then we thought that the Arc de Triomphe project would never see the light. Honestly, it is strange how suddenly everything came true! “, he indicated.
The monument packaging crayon and pastel master did not draw for projects that were already in progress. He always did them before and they reflected the evolution of the idea. For this reason, when he was granted permission, he did not have, as he himself recognized, works of the arch to sell and pay for the action. “To maintain that absolute freedom we cannot be obliged by anyone”, the artist has said on more than one occasion, aware that when politics pays for a monument it does so with the intention that it occupies the street forever.
The imposition of the past
He wants to be able to make himself visible to the rest of the generations and to perpetuate his tributes on the communities to come. They are elements imposed so as not to move and turn the citizen into a captive audience of the interested message. This presence is the one that Christo and Jeanne-Claude questioned. They offered an alternative to the past that imposes an ideological order on the present: for a few days they transformed sites and monuments into ephemeral art, with a curtain that hides many questions.
Who determines the design of the public space? Who decides who is honored? For what purposes are the characters or events mentioned remembered? How do the meanings of monuments and buildings evolve, how do we read in the present these landmarks born in the past? Are inviolability guaranteed on public roads? Is it possible to imagine the Arch of Victory in Moncloa, commissioned by Francisco Franco to honor himself, covered with a black funeral canvas that denounces its existence?
The task of both artists also revealed the fragility of the monuments in which they acted (and of so many others): they could disappear at any moment. By covering them, one could read the gesture as the contemporary restoration of an inherited icon. The packaging — not wrapping, as the artist explained over and over again — did not alter the place in which they performed, although they completely transformed it. The Parisian Arc de Triomphe will have a new skin, which will vibrate with the wind that filters through the plastic fabric and then it will be discovered how a rigid and unalterable construction is vulnerable and oscillating.