As with many of the late-twentieth century artists who established radical new forms of art making, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago engaged with Christo early and often. When a New York museum turned down Christo’s proposal to realize his first wrapped building in the US, the MCA offered its spare, blocky building at 237 East Ontario. In 1968, the MCA was in its second year and was resolutely dedicated to helping artists realize aesthetically risky and logistically difficult projects. Along with a team of student volunteers and MCA staff, Christo wrapped the outside and inside of the Museum with 10,000 square feet of water- and fire-resistant tarpaulin. Opened to the public in January of 1969, the Wrap In Wrap Out project was a sensation, capturing the imaginations of the MCA’s early audiences who were actively learning what contemporary art was and could be.
Christo passed away May 31 at the age of 84. Since that early MCA project, he became a world-renowned figure who, together with his wife and artistic partner Jeanne-Claude, sought out unusual locations—such as a narrow pass in Colorado to create Valley Curtain (1972) and the hills of Sonoma and Marin counties in California for Running Fence (1972)—to stage their site-specific works. These now-legendary projects were followed by many more, installed around the world with the assistance of volunteers. His projects were ephemeral. Some, like Valley Curtain, lasted only a few days, while others, like The Gates (2005) installed in New York’s Central Park, were enjoyed by enthusiastic crowds over a two-week run. His method of realizing these projects was unusual. He eschewed government grants and other funding sources, instead creating small wrapped pieces, prints, and other items to support his endeavors.
Along with a number of pieces that document the wrapping in 1969, the MCA’s collection features a seminal work from earlier in his career: Orange Store Front (1964–65). Made from salvaged materials and resembling a store’s facade, this piece, one in a series of Store Fronts, helped position Christo as part of the pop art movement then emerging in New York. Exploring this connection, the MCA included Christo in The Street, The Store, and the Silver Screen: Pop Art from the MCA Collection in 2016. Most recently, this work was selected by Duro Olowu to be included in his current exhibition Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago.
Christo also created one of the first fundraising multiples sponsored by the MCA: Chicago Magazines, Wrapped, 1980 (1980). Christo traveled to Chicago over the years, and had many Chicago friendships, including one with his long-time legal representative, Scott Hodes.
Even among his radically experimental peers, Christo was a unique artist, and his singular vision, always so generous to the public, will be missed.
– Lynne Warren, Adjunct Curator