A little known work by Christo will be a highlight of this year’s BRAFA, which opens in Brussels tomorrow. Three Store Fronts is one of series of works created in the 1960s, inspired by shop fronts in Paris and New York. Made from architectural scrap and hung with drapes, it first went on show at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven in 1965, and kick-started Christo’s career. Compared to the monumental and ambitious projects that have defined the artist’s career ever since, it is surprisingly modest.

‘I was very happy when BRAFA asked me to show this work; it has only ever been exhibited twice, and so few people have seen it,’ says Christo from his studio in New York’s Canal Street, where he has lived for the past 53 years. Like Show Cases and Store Fronts (additional works from the same period), it has been in his storage facility for years. ‘I am the biggest collector of my works,’ he says. ‘I use them as collateral to fund my large projects.’

Installation view of Three Store Fronts, 1965-66, by Christo at BRAFA, Brussels. © A2pix / F Blaise, E Charneux

Over the decades, these have included creating a walkway across an Italian lake, (Floating Piers, 2016), hanging a curtain between two Colorado mountain slopes (Valley Curtain, 1972), installing 7,503 fabric panels in New York’s Central Park (The Gates, 2003) and perhaps, most famously, wrapping the Reichstag in Berlin in a silvery fabric (Wrapped Reichstag, 1995). So successful has the 82-year-old artist been at injecting buildings and landscapes with dramatic aesthetic interventions, each project drawing millions of visitors, that Christo is one of the world’s most celebrated living artists.

‘The most important, and difficult, part of any project is getting permissions. I’ve had more failures than successes; 23 projects have been realised, 37 turned down.’ His next work, The Mastaba, is a flat-topped pyramid made from barrels in the Abu Dhabi desert. It has been in the pipeline for 40 years.

‘In 1979 (my late wife) Jeanne-Claude and I went to Abu Dhabi, which was still a new country. We didn’t even know where it was! We found a site, which is in the middle of the Empty Quarter, populated by high dunes and white gazelles.’ Stretching to 150m high and 225m deep, The Mastaba will be the world’s largest sculpture and take three years to build.

‘We never know how to do a project when we start; we have to experience real winds, real water, real sunlight. These can’t be mimicked by computer,’ says Christo, who is still negotiating permissions. Will it happen? ‘I am not giving up,’ he claims, ‘but everything is more difficult now. The world is a different place.’