Material Mondays: Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Wrapped Museum of Contemporary Art

Christo and Jeanne-Claude Wrapped Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1968-69 Photo: Shunk-Kender © 1969 Christo

This work resonates with the lockdown, perhaps, because it emphasises the logistical challenges, and indeed the sheer labour, involved in the withdrawal of parts of the museum from view. In this period, we can still see the contents of those museums which have digital access, but their material characteristics are somehow more vivid because of their absence.

At a time when the physical sites of most museums are inaccessible, there is an opportunity to reflect on our experience of art, especially on features which may otherwise go unremarked. Since the lockdown, there has been enormous effort to disseminate online access to museum collections. These resources allow important elements of museums’ cultural work to continue. Equally though, they highlight those features of the experience of art that are now unavailable.

A project by the husband and wife artistic partnership Christo and Jeanne Claude, Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, Wrapped is an interesting one to consider at this strange moment. Christo and Jeanne Claude (Christo Vladimirov Javacheff and Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon) are best known for their signature wrapping of buildings, monuments, even coastlines, in a variety of synthetic or natural fabrics.

In the case of Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, Wrapped the building was entirely shrouded in 10,000 square feet of tarpaulin and rope by art students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The project was meticulously planned, both in relation to aesthetic and pragmatic considerations, including the need to leave space for ventilation and maintain entrance and exits to the building. Although the museum remained open during the two week-long exhibit, the interior showed a complementary work, Wrapped Floor and Stairway, the floor of an empty, newly-painted gallery swathed in cotton drop cloths.

This work resonates with the lockdown, perhaps, because it emphasises the logistical challenges, and indeed the sheer labour, involved in the withdrawal of parts of the museum from view. In this period, we can still see the contents of those museums which have digital access, but their material characteristics are somehow more vivid because of their absence. This materiality involves artefacts, spaces of display and buildings, but also the work of all kinds required to sustain such an institution, from the cleaners to conservators and administrators.

-Dr Kim Charnley, Staff Tutor in Art History, The Open University