At Large

By: 
Greg Forrest Gallery Animator

Wrapped Building, Project for 1 Times Square

Wrapped Building, Project for 1 Times Square, 1985, is lithographic print by the artist Christo. Together with his wife and artistic partner Jeanne-Claude, they created some of the largest and most widely seen artworks of the post-World War II era. They often employ woven fabrics in their works and are particularly famous for wrapping buildings, bridges and even (controversially), a coastline in Australia. Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s projects are rare events and internationally celebrated when they are realized, however briefly that may be.

Christo Vladimirov. Javacheff and Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon were born on the same day in 1935. He in Gabrovo, Bulgaria and she in Casablanca, Morocco. In the late 1950s when the Iron Curtain was becoming a wall, Christo fled and eventually wound up in Paris painting portraits of the well-to-do. He met Jeanne-Claude when hired to paint her family’s portrait and they began a life-long, multi-faceted partnership. While painting conventional portraits, he was developing a more experimental studio practice that often involved wrapping objects with fabric, secured with rope and twine. This work outgrew the confines of the studio in its scale and ambition. Creating large, temporary works in the public space involved securing money, negotiating with governments, building and business owners, and community groups. Staging these artworks required logistical planning with D-Day-like precision. This allowed years of preliminary work to suddenly come to fruition with a theatrical execution.

Wrapped Building, Project for 1 Times Square is a print for a proposed project that has not happened. This lithographic print is numbered 96 out of an edition of 100 and is signed “Christo”. Up until 1994, their works were credited to Christo alone. This was a result of sexism and an art world still new to the idea of artistic partnerships. Retroactively, all works were credited to Christo and Jeanne-Claude. There were clear divisions of labour in some areas of their partnership. Christo was a trained artist and already established when he began working with Jeanne-Claude. He produced all the drawings and prints that were sold to fund their activities. Jeanne-Claude solely managed the financial aspects of their work.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude were their own dealers which is significant when you consider that commercial dealers take 30% to 60% of the sales price of an artwork. Their projects were financed through the sale of original drawings, collages and limited-edition prints. They were entirely self-financed and beholden to no one. Christo’s prints are immediately recognizable by style and subject matter. Often using photographic images of a proposed site over which he drew and collaged. They are loose, expressive and assured works. These prints are the linchpin product of an artistic corporation and their quality and desirability essential to its success. They have an instantly recognizable drawing style combined with photo-transfer technique that is often imitated. No one could own one of their massive ephemeral artworks, but they could own a little piece of it and support the process that created it.

Wrapped Building, Project for 1 Times Square is part of an unsolicited proposal to wrap the 25 story, wedge shaped building currently known as #1 Times Square. It was originally built as the offices for The New York Times newspaper for which the area was named. It is the home of the annual New Year’s Eve ball that drops at midnight. Christo and Jeanne-Claude permanently moved to New York City in 1964 and began developing projects they wanted create in the metropolis. They first proposed wrapping #1 Times Square (known then as the Allied Chemical Building) in 1967 when its owner was a close friend of one their patrons. The thin, chair-shaped building stood alone and was situated in the busiest pedestrian crossroads in the world. From then until the late 1980s, Times Square was New York’s crime plagued red light district. Today, #1 Times Square’s value is as a scaffold for the most valuable advertising space in the world. Over four decades, Christo and Jeanne-Claude produced different lithographic prints that reflected the changing character of Times Square. Their intention to wrap this building didn’t waiver from inception onward but insurance regulations were the stumbling block to their realization. Most Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s wrapped buildings have been art museums and other public buildings that are more inclined to being part of a giant artwork.

Jeanne-Claude died in 2009 and Christo in 2020 but the realisation of their project to wrap the Arc de Triomphe in Paris was realised posthumously in September/October 2021. The Mastaba conceived in 1977, is a work in progress for the United Arab Emirates consisting of 410,000 multi-coloured oil barrels that will be their only permanent work and the largest sculpture in the world. Completion of The Mastaba is overseen by the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation and it will be their last work to be realized.

Image Credit: 

Christo, Wrapped Building, Project for 1 Times Square, 1985. Colour lithograph, with collage of fabric, thread, polyethylene and staples, 70.0 x 56.5 cm. Gift of Leon Liffmann, Toronto, Ontario, 2015