Christo: Show Cases, Show Windows & Store Fronts, 1963-1966
On ViewGalerie Cahiers D’Art
September 23 – December 30, 2020
For those who consider the speculations of the Situationist International and Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle as a settled subject of dispute—the crasser corners of the art world certainly might give you this impression—along comes Christo’s final exhibition Show Cases, Show Windows & Store Fronts at Galerie Cahiers d’Art to reopen the subject. Back from the past of the mid-1960s, this anti-show show suggests a necessary and radical poignancy that underlies the continuation of our pathetic pandemic period.
Christo’s exhibition, situating art as a material process, presents a selection of his historic covered cases, all hidden behind a covered vitrine. The interior of the chic gallery is thus rendered inaccessible from the street, blending in seamlessly with out-of-business shops in the same arrondissement. Such passive-antagonistic visual negation suggests a structured opposition to both the highly visible currents of algorithmic culture and the human spirit’s general reluctance to move beyond frantic stimulation.
Realized by Christo’s studio, this is the very last exhibition that Christo planned before the curtains closed on his life earlier this year, and it is accompanied by his last publication. Here, Christo’s cultural agency is located outside the domain of his (and Jeanne-Claude’s) normal level of high perceptibility. As an anachronism of dead magic, the show is spectacularly short on their usual flair—but not the pair’s audacity—presenting a distinctively glamorous-if-unspectacular, tasteful unity.
Almost invisible from the street to the uninformed, the exhibition is not in any sense anti-spectacular in intensity, but a clear-cut denial of art spectacle en pleine mesure. As a sort of pensive prison of Nouveaux Réalisme everydayness, it is both humble and high-minded, and exceedingly boring after the first, enchanting look. The enigmatic covered pieces inside, such as Show Case (1963), suggest found art objects trapped in a cycle that oscillates between radical mediocrity and tragic sublimity. They, and especially the manufactured denialism of larger galvanized metal pieces, like Show Window (1965), Show Window (1966), and Store Front Corner (1965), all of which were fabricated in New York, show that anti-art is inexhaustible. Each attempt to close the contours of the category “art” represents (at best) only an asymptotic approach. With each attempt to end art, new art emerges, if only as sly minimal burlesque.
Maestro of the art wrap, but not its inventor—that seems to be Man Ray with his L’Enigme d’Isidore Ducasse (1920)—Christo was first introduced to the use of textiles at his father’s Bulgarian factory for textile chemicals. After he moved to Paris in 1958, Christo joined Pierre Restany and Yves Klein’s Nouveaux Réalisme group. This was in 1963: he was already wrapping cans and bottles and small cases purchased at flea markets in resin-soaked canvas and tying them up. Some of his lovelier wrappings from this period, like Empaquetage sur une table (1961), are in the complementing Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Paris ! exhibition at the Centre Pompidou.
By contrast, Cahiers d’Art’s no-show show intrinsically disrupts and undermines the spectacle of viewing Pompidou-ready, well lit, well-staged art objects—whose foundational purpose is nothing other than visibility—by engaging in acts of ontological deprivation. This is why the exhibition may, by virtue of its masked reductive banality, be considered revolutionary during a period when lifestyle reality is assumed to be what art was to the 20th century. This Christo no-show show shows how anti-social engagements can function in a fundamentally political way: what Theodor Adorno saw as an immanent move against society outside of any specific political positions. Yet perhaps set against the backdrop of global pandemic and ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, the Christo crowd may find audiences impatient with such formal Zen end moves. Many now are more focused upon illustrative imagery, created by non-famous, non-white, non-male artists, that directly addresses the social needs of the day.
It once was a given that the power of confirmation and denial is vested, not in the ability to connect and become visible, but rather in the ability (and privilege) to disconnect, becoming invisible and untraceable. However, this certainly does not mean that Show Cases, Show Windows & Store Fronts constitutes a space without political conflict. Certainly, Christo here, for his final act, has taken on the guise of an occult (meaning hidden) artist who shrouds art in public—like the late Greta Garbo did. But the show feels somehow both politically lively and timely, as everything today finds itself both masked against invisible contagion and more-or-less shut down. Ambitious aesthetic concerns are not exempt. Undoubtedly, this seems not a time of joyful sensory abundance, but rather one benumbed and dead, occupied by subverting the visibility and notoriety of famous artworks and transforming them into acts of obscure resistance.