Art The Story of the Beetle Packed by Christo and Jeanne-Claude
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The Story of the Beetle Packed by Christo and Jeanne-Claude

Giorgia Massari

Art Basel has just ended and what we are left with are the large-scale works of Unlimited, which every year aims to surprise in terms of size. From mural painting to sculpture, but also photography and giant projections that this year increase in size but lose perhaps the more fun and interactive aspect that had distinguished last year’s works. Yayoi Kusama, now super on trend after her exhibition in Bergamo and after her collaboration with Louis Vuitton, brings two of her polka-dotted pumpkins, but not only that. So many installations bring with them messages of peace, clearly saying “end war and racism” – like Henry Taylor’s for Hauser&Wirth or again Mario Ceroli’s Progetto per la pace, exhibited by Cardi Gallery. But one of the first works we encounter that intrigued us the most is that of Christo, with one of his classic wrappings. The work is titled Wrapped 1961 Volkswagen Beetle Saloon – presented, of course, by Gagosian – but the one from Art Basel is not the first one made by Christo. Today we outline its history, including anecdotes, sketches and archival photos.

Wrong choices of collectors narrowly missed

For the history of this work, let’s go back to 1963, when Christo was planning a solo exhibition at Galerie Schmela in Düsseldorf, Germany. For the occasion, Christo and Jeanne-Claude created one of their first artworks by wrapping a Volkswagen Beetle. This brand-new vehicle was loaned to the artists by Claus Harden, a colleague of photographer and filmmaker Charles Wilp. The work, titled Wrapped Car (Volkswagen), 1963, existed for only a short time. Harden, in fact, requested that the vehicle be returned to him in its original state, without packaging. Needless to say, years later, Harden admitted that his decision to have the vehicle discarded was “one of the worst of his life.”

Foto: Charles Wilp© 1963 Fondazione Christo e Jeanne-Claude

«I’ll do it again,» but this time Christo buys it

In 2013, when Christo returned to Düsseldorf to give a lecture at the K20 art museum, he remembered the Wrapped Car (Volkswagen) and, overwhelmed by nostalgia for this effectively returned car, decided to recreate it. At this point he had no shortage of money to buy it. Christo bought a mint-colored 1961 Volkswagen Beetle, the same model he and Jeanne-Claude had used more than fifty years earlier, and emptied it of all unnecessary (and dangerous) components such as liquids, to fit it with wheels instead, which was useful for moving. The following year he completed the work, thus creating Wrapped Volkswagen Beetle Saloon, 1963-2014. This work not only recreated the original work, but also celebrated the artistic legacy of the duo – disbanded only when his wife died in 2009 – emphasizing their dedication to transforming ordinary objects into extraordinary works of art.

Wolfgang Volz, © Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation, Courtesy Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation and Gagosian
Christo, Wrapped 1961 Volkswagen Beetle Saloon (1961), presented by Gagosian at Art Basel Unlimited. Copyright the artist’s estate. Photo courtesy of Art Basel
Artconcept art
Written by Giorgia Massari
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