Christo, American, b. Gabrovo, Bulgaria, 1935
Painted wood, plexiglass, cloth, metal, polyethelene vinyl, string, fiberboard, paper, and fluorescent lights, 104 1/2 x 105 1/2 x 46 in. (265.3 x 268 x 116.8 cm)
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, Joseph H. Hirshhorn Purchase Fund, 1992
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Collection, Conceptual Art
In 1963, still in Paris, Christo had begun making the Show Cases. He acquired small glass display cases or medicine cabinets at the flea market and turned their function around by hanging fabric or pasting paper on the inside of the panes. In some cases he illuminated the inside of the showcases with a light bulb or suggested luxurious decadence by lining the inside with satin or silk.
If the Show Cases were more like little meditations comparable to the early Wrapped Cans or Packages, the proportions of the life-sized Show Windows and Store Fronts that were done after Christo and Jeanne-Claude had emigrated to New York in 1964 recalled the gigantic dimensions of New York architecture.
Made out of architectural elements found in scrap heaps and the remnants of demolished buildings, the first Store Fronts have surfaces with a patina that exude the charm of the old and used. What Christo reveals to the observer is no more than a pretence. The display windows of the suggested stores are draped with fabric or wrapping paper and the doors are securely locked.
In 1965, a decisive change occurred in the design of Christo's Store Fronts. The charm of hand-craft gave way to an industrial frigidity, the warm color tones of previous Store Fronts changing into cold and clinically polished metallic surfaces.
The Show Cases, Show Windows and Store Fronts have elements that have been carried throughout the artists' career. The curtains of fabric draped on the inside of the panes can be seen as forerunners of such projects as the Valley Curtain, the Running Fence or The Gates. The brown wrapping paper that is used in some of the works anticipate the Covered Windows at the Museum Haus Lange. Also, the Show Cases, Show Windows and Store Fronts are the first works not to include wrapping. The outer structures are not hidden but function as independent sculptures. While smaller objects were prevalent in the early 1960s, from 1964 Christo and Jeanne-Claude's interest turned into altering whole rooms and environments.
Excerpt from the book Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Early Works 1958-64 by Matthias Koddenberg (Bönen: Kettler, 2009). Edited by the author in 2011.
ART/ARCHITECTURE; How Much Is That Storefront in the Window?
By RITA REIF
Published: May 18, 2003
IN 1967, Christo's ''Store Front'' and ''Wedding Dress'' dominated the gala premiere of ''The Museum of Merchandise,'' a seminal exhibition of Pop, Op and trendy artist-designed furnishings and fashions held here at the Young Men's/Young Women's Hebrew Association. It was the Y's fourth show in five years to explore artist-designed works created for mass production, a movement now being re-examined in gallery and museum shows here and elsewhere.
Guests at the 1967 exhibition entered the show through the door of Christo's ''Store Front,'' a minimal 24-by-10-foot structure of wood, paint, Plexiglas and Kraft paper. Beyond was a 60's scene of blinding lights, pulsing rock music and vividly colored objects in a gallery filled with witty and zany chairs, lamps, dinnerware and window shades. All were devised by artists as either multiples or one-of-a-kind pieces that might be mass manufactured.
At the end of the evening, the finale of the fashion show brought roaring applause when a barefoot model crossed the basketball court wearing Christo's wedding ''dress'' consisting of a white satin top and white satin shorts with its ''train'' -- a white satin bundle the size of a baby elephant, bound in white silk rope, as if the bride were a beast pulling a burden.
Last month Christo was back in town at the Y.M./Y.W.H.A., now called the Gershman Y. He came to supervise the reassembly of ''Store Front,'' one of the two last versions made in the genre he had originated in 1964, working in the gallery where he had produced it 36 years ago. After two 10-hour days, he and three co-workers completed the 80-piece ''Store Front,'' its surfaces gleaming with fresh coats of radiator paint, its brown-paper-covered windows glowing with new fluorescent lighting.
''I like this paper -- it gives a honey-colored light,'' Christo said.
The freshened ''Store Front'' is now the centerpiece of ''A Happening Place,'' an exhibition through June reviving ''Merchandise'' and three earlier 60's art shows, organized by Cheryl Harper, the Gershman's curator. The show combines 45 of the 120 objects displayed in ''Merchandise'' along with 25 other works from earlier exhibitions, all of which were organized by Audrey Sabol, an artist and collector, and Joan Kron, a decorator who became a writer.
From ''Merchandise'' there are many of the same or similar objects: Roy Lichtenstein's graphically arresting black-and-white cups and dishes: Andy Warhol's silvered Coca-Cola bottle, which was sold with his perfume ''You're In''; Arman's see-through wastepaper basket brim-full of Robert Rauschenberg's trash; Robert Indiana's gold LOVE ring; Robert Watts's bogus postage stamps bearing images of W. C. Fields; and Geoffrey Hendricks's cloud-splashed window shade.
'' 'The Museum of Merchandise' was the most ambitious show of artist-designed artifacts of the 1960's,'' Ms. Harper said. ''I proposed this exhibition to expose a new generation to the excitement of the period as experienced in these shows.''
HER interest in the 60's exhibitions was inspired by reports from artists, collectors and colleagues that she heard soon after she began, as an independent curator in 1996, to organize art shows at the Y. By 1999, she was checking old files on the Y's cultural activities and found historical materials and an article detailing the donations of exhibition papers that Ms. Sabol and Ms. Kron made in the 1980's to the Archives of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution. Curious, Ms. Harper called both women to hear their first-hand accounts of the shows and the artists who had participated.
In December 1999, the Philadelphia Museum of Art contacted the Gershman Y asking for a decision about ''Store Front,'' which had been sent to the museum after ''Merchandise'' closed and was exhibited there for eight years before being dismantled and stored.
''The museum could no longer afford to keep it, given its large size.'' Ms. Harper said. ''And I was asked to look into it. When I went to the museum and examined it, I was impressed that the main components had been carefully crated and stored and felt that the piece could be reassembled and exhibited.'' Now she was determined to organize a revival of the 60's shows.
In 2001, she was hired as a staff curator and was awarded a research grant of $7,500 from the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, financed by the Pew Charitable Trust, to explore the possibilities of a show on 60's artist-designed artifacts. (Her research grant was more than twice the total cost of ''The Museum of Merchandise.'') Last year she reapplied and was given a second grant of $173,500 to cover the costs of the exhibition. The grants came just as the Y changed from a full-service facility to one focused only on cultural activities, updating its identity to match the designation in the 90's of Broad Street here as the Avenue of the Arts.
To recapture the 60's mood in the new exhibition, Ms. Harper had the 1967 tape of Steve Reich's haunting ''Buy Art Buy Art,'' a work of chanting and chattering voices that he wrote and recorded for the 1967 show where it was played continuously.
But there are changes. Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude said that ''Wedding Dress'' was in storage in Basel, Switzerland, and would be very costly to bring here, with a curator, so it was omitted. And the artists insisted that this time the ''Store Front'' door remains closed, as are all the doors on the nine ''Store Front'' works that Christo produced between 1964 and 1967.
''They should never be opened,'' Christo said. ''The door to 'The Museum of Merchandise' 'Store Front' was the only exception I ever made.''
Like most of Christo's works, ''Store Front'' is an enigma -- more so closed than open. ''You cannot see what is inside,'' Christo said. ''You cannot go beyond the door.''
The materials for ''Store Front'' cost about $200 and were purchased by a Y supporter. But Christo was never paid, so ''Store Front'' is owned by both the artist and the Y.
''We hoped someone would buy 'Store Front' and give it to the museum,'' Christo said. ''But for 36 years nothing happened. Now it is up for sale at $1.2 million.''
And if ''Store Front'' is sold, Christo and Jeanne-Claude know exactly what they will do with their share of the money. ''We have only 20 months to 'The Gates,' '' Christo said, referring to ''The Gates, Central Park, New York, 1979-2005,'' the public-art project of 23 miles of saffron-colored fabric that the couple will finance and create, with the City of New York's permission, to be installed in February 2005. Whatever money they make now will go toward its cost. ''But the money from 'Store Front' would be a drop in the bucket for building 'The Gates,' '' Jeanne-Claude said.
Store Front, 1964