New photography reveals Christo’s studio as he left it
Photographer Brigitte Lacombe visits the New York City studio of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, to shine a new light on the couple’s works, possessions and living space ahead of the late artists’ personal items going to auction
Although the private lives of others will always make great fodder for fables, a new auction of personal items belonging to the legendary Christo and Jeanne-Claude at Sotheby’s in Paris (17 February 2021) is set to separate fact from fiction.
Entitled ‘Unwrapped: The Hidden World of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’, the sale features many works and personal items from the couple’s longtime studio in New York – nearly 400 lots that invite viewers into their creative space and offer insight into their inspirations and friendships with other iconic artists. Until now, most of this has remained completely private.
The collection also includes works by Christo and Jeanne-Claude themselves, including pieces stemming from well-known projects like The Pont Neuf Wrapped, Project for Paris and their iconic Package and Store Front series from the 1960s. Every piece offered once hung in the duo’s studio and de facto home at 48 Howard Street in New York City – where they lived worked from 1964 until Christo’s death in May last year.
A new lens
We secured special access for photographer Brigitte Lacombe to visit 48 Howard Street, and photograph the studio almost as Christo left it – with drawings he worked on in his final days, tables lined with pencils, rulers and other materials, posters and personal photographs pinned on the walls, and postcards that the couple received from their famous friends.
‘I was most excited about the chance to see the studio and living space of these great artists, which is largely untouched,’ shares Lacombe. ‘It was very moving, intimate and inspiring.’ Lacombe noted that the studio was representative of Christo and Jeanne Claude’s generation of artists, ‘It’s all about the work and not about the presentation of its design. The bedroom, bathroom and kitchen are all miniscule. Life and work are indistinguishable.’
Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s all-encompassing drive is just as evident in the works available for sale at Sotheby’s. Ranging from artworks they collected from the likes of Damien Hirst, Jenny Holzer, Jeff Koons and Ray Johnson, to postcards and letters from close friends including Nam Jun Paik, Gilbert and George, and Arman, the collection is filled with original and memorable finds, including a drawing of the couple’s wrapped Pont Neuf in Paris by Tadao Ando and a dollhouse made by Yinka Shonibare, received as a Christmas gift in 2002.
‘The interesting thing is that this was never meant to be a [formal] collection,’ shares Lorenza Giovanelli, who has worked with Christo as his studio manager since 2017. ‘Christo and Jeanne-Claude were never collectors. They rarely bought pieces; most of them came through trades or exchanges with other artists, or they were gifts. Actually most of the time, when they acquired a piece from another artist, it was because they wanted to support a young or emerging artist. The collection simply took shape by itself through the years. That’s why it’s so heterogenous and why you have different works coming from different generations and backgrounds. It really reflects their life, their friendships and experiences.’
While not for sale, plans and drawings of the wrapped Arc de Triomphe – a project Christo was working on in his final days, and set to go ahead in September 2021 – highlight just how active the artist was up until the end.
‘We’ve had to postpone the project twice because of the pandemic,’ says Giovanelli. ‘It was meant to open in April 2020 to coincide with the Centre Pompidou’s exhibition, but we had to change our plans because that’s the hatching season for falcons, who nest a lot on the bas-relief of the Arc de Triomphe, and we wanted to honour that. We moved it to September and then we were asked by the government to postpone again. But we are absolutely on track. We are working every day. The fabric is ready and we will start working from 14 July and we hopefully will open as planned on 18 September 2021. It’s the third time that Christo and Jeanne-Claude are returning to the city. They’re going back home.’