These early works by Christo were a recent revelation for me.
While I’d been generally aware of his wrapped sculptures and Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s environmental wrappings, I had never fully considered the role “packaging” may or may not have played in his artwork.
In March 1958, Christo arrived in Paris where he started to create a large installation of wrapped, painted and unaltered cans, bottles and crates. Today, only fragments of the many pieces still exist.
… It started with a small, empty paint can, of which there were many lying around in his studio. Christo wrapped the insignificant object in resin-soaked canvas, tied it up and coated the result with a mixture of glue, varnish and sand and a thin layer of dark-black or brown lacquer.
…Christo always contrasted his wrapped cans with versions with no wrapping…
…The first of these ensembles was limited to only two cans, but soon whole groups appeared consisting of a variety of wrapped, painted and unaltered cans and bottles. It is important to point out that none of the works are mounted on a base, which implies that Christo did not explicitly prescribe the arrangement of the individual components. In reality, the cans, now scattered among collections, were once part of a large installation of wrapped, painted and unaltered cans, bottles and crates that Christo did between 1958 and 1960 and baptized Inventory.
Excerpt from the book Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Early Works 1958-64 by Matthias Koddenberg
More is concealed and revealed, after the fold…
Christo from the first seems to have conceived of wrapping as a transformative act. Packaged, the formerly separate and independent object is altered, its original contours and properties modified by the wrapping applied over it. Usually thought of in the commercial sense of enhancement, packaging possesses for Christo another, clandestine, potential: that of contradiction. Depending on the specific natures of the object and wrapper, it is possible by their conjunction to obscure or deny the object’s substance and function. It is toward the exploration of this order of ambiguity that Christo’s art directs itself.
from Christo: Monuments and Projects catalog, 1968
Fineberg: Let me ask you something about the imagery of packaging — the way in which the Fence and the Curtain have to do with packaging materials or wrapping things.
Christo: I really don’t think it is packaging. This is something curious through all these projects, I work with a very fragile material and the fragility becomes an important aesthetic matter.
… That material becomes an obstruction or separation, dividing. Really, it is not just packaging. The packaging can also be obstruction, but it is different. The material, because of the fragility, is very active; it makes you want to go through, like you can break it (and it is breakable, it can tear apart). All this going-through action has become a major part of the project.
from a 1977 interview with Jonathan David Fineberg
Wrapped Cans. Part of Inventory 1959-1960 Christo (Christo Javacheff) born 1935, Purchased 1981 (Tate)
Christo began wrapping and transforming ordinary objects, such as these enamel paint tins, in Paris in the late 1950s. The paint tins were bought from a hardware store, or retrieved from discarded rubbish. As the title suggests, this work was intended as part of a room-sized work called Inventory which included numerous wrapped, painted and stacked bottles, tins, barrels and wooden boxes, reflecting Christo’s preoccupation with the twentieth-century phenomenon of packaging.
These packages have nothing to do with industrial packaging or selling products in the capitalist system. They are very nomadic, humble things in transition, moving somewhere.
from an interview with Jan Garden Castro
for the ICS publication, Sculpture
My sense of Christo’s repeated denials of packaging as an influence, is that he’s trying to distance himself from Pop Art’s focus on brand imagery.
And yet… there was that 1963 exhibition announcement:
The Apollinaire invitation incorporated photographs of Wrapped Motorcycle, Wrapped Car — VW, a group of packages, and even a Shunk and Render picture of Jeanne-Claude curled up on her bed wearing high heels, with scattered text from Fortune magazine advertisements. One page had illustrations of three artworks separated by lettering which read “We’re deep in packaging” and “Packaging often ranks next to product in influence upon a buyer.” On another page, beneath the photomontage of Project for a Wrapped Public Building, it read “Why not let our packaging people help you?”
from Christo and Jeanne-Claude: An Authorized Biography
Burt Chernow, Wolfgang Volz