Christo: Early Works | Gagosian Open

This show is a survey of small works from an artist most famous for huge, attention-grabbing installations in public spaces - wrapping the Reichstag in Berlin or the Pont-Neuf in Paris in fabric, for example. By contrast, the wrapped-up tables, racks and household goods on show in London actually seem overshadowed by the gallery in which they’re exhibited.

Gagosian Open is a new series of “off-site” projects from the world’s bougiest private gallery chain. So, instead of a white cube prowled by besuited security guards like usual, the exhibition takes place in a gorgeous 300-year-old Shoreditch house - a space which took up way more of my fellow gallery-goers’ attention than the art did. Mine too, to be honest.

Christo: Early Works - Installation View

I tried my best to focus and form opinions on the small, slumpy wrapped-up works, on plinths and in vitrines, centre stage in this gorgeously dilapidated space. When they got going in the 50s, Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude were part of a global movement towards repurposing everyday found objects into artworks: there’s a straight line of inspiration from these paper and fabric bound “sculptures” and Burri’s burnt sackcloth, or Rauschenberg’s bed. Even so, they didn’t grab my attention, distracted as I was by both the gorgeous gallery and the constant moans of the floorboards around me, as the similarly-distracted crowds circulated through.

Right at the top of the townhouse, up a whole lot of creaky stairs, in a vitrine, is Package, from 1963. It’s an asymmetrical little brown paper bundle, casually tied with string, with a sheen of resin on top. (The show notes’ reference to the packages’ “meticulously latticed ligatures” is flat wrong, at least in this case.) I tried to focus, knowing it’d be the last little Christo I’d get a look at for a while.

Across the room, a loud, self-confident old woman who’d climbed the stairs right behind me offered a bit of historical context. “I like the waxed paper aspect,” she boomed to her friend, on entering the room. “It takes me back to very early childhood. A package from the butchers.”

The package is as normal and commonplace an object, in 1963, as the room would have been in the 1700s, when the house was built. Through time, they became worthy of closer attention.

Christo: Early Works is at Gagosian Open (London). 06 - 22 October 2023