The Saatchi Gallery has opened an exhibition of art that is almost as good as an exhibition of architecture – as it’s a retrospective look at the artist duo who made their name wrapping everything from a candlestick to an entire government building.

This is the last exhibition Christo signed off on before his death in 2020 and features seventy works which trace their historical development from the mid-1950s to 2020 and beyond. Initially, and often still abbreviated simply as Christo, the artistic duo was made up of Christo Vladimirov Javacheff and Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon who met in Paris in the 1950s

Christo was born and raised in Communist Bulgaria and although initially a painter, often reluctantly to pay the bills, he developed a fascination with concealing objects in wrapping papers.

Initially domestic scale, but over time ever larger commissions — until they started covering entire buildings and even landscapes. It’s these monumental temporary works of art that the exhibition focuses on, and by showing off the many early drawings of their plans, it’s as much art as it is architecture.

Like many architectural drawings, they are often beautiful to look at in their own right, and whether by design or just their background, I couldn’t help but notice how many of the drawing styles reminded me of 1930s-50s architectural drawings that I can see in UK archives.

After 24 years of lobbying to get permission, in 1995, they wrapped Berlin’s Reichstag building, and part of the wrapping is here in the exhibition. And then you realise that they wrapped buildings in the same sort of material used to make the blue Ikea bags.

What would have been by far their largest commission was the Mastaba for Abu Dhabi, UAE, which I noticed would have been built when I was living there, but alas, it wasn’t. But you can see a large-scale model and many of the sketches that show how utterly vast it would have been. Peculiarly, it’s very much the sort of massively over the top sort of thing you could imagine Dubai doing today.

Christo Vladimirov and Jeanne-Claude certainly didn’t think small, although they agreed to downsize slightly in 2018, to create a smaller mastaba in Hyde Park.

Their last project as a working couple was the covering of the L’Arc de Triomphe in Paris, delayed by the pandemic and completed by Jeanne-Claude after Christo’s death.

Not everyone said yes to being wrapped, and there are some examples of other rejected projects. The exhibition notes tend towards blaming the building owner’s lack of vision, but to be fair, the buildings do have occupants, and they might have been less keen on the loss of daylight and the disturbance caused.

Away from wrapping things, there are some of Christo’s early paintings here, which he never signed Christo as he disliked having to paint portraits for money, preferring to use the family name Javacheff. There are possibly some homes with portraits signed by some “unknown artist” called Javacheff, and having no idea how significant it is.

As an exhibition, it’s a reminder of the art they created, but just as artistic were the many preparatory sketches of their monumental works, which are an art collection in themselves. It’s a great chance to remind ourselves of how grand their visions were and admire their behind the scenes work in preparing for the grand projects.

The exhibition Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Boundless is at the Saatchi Gallery until 22nd January 2024.

General Admission: £12 | Concessions: £8 | Family: £30

Tickets are on sale now from here.


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One comment
  1. Rainer says:

    Hi Ian, thanks a lot for your detailed review.
    I would just likt to add a minor correction and a hopefully interesting information:
    Jeanne-Claude died more than ten years before Christo, in November 2009. Two nephews of Christo and Jeanne-Claude realized their final project, the wrapping of the Arc de Triomphe.
    The artists couple never used the same plane during their lifetime. In case of a crash the other one should finish their planned projects.
    Best regards, Rainer

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