Project 1 - Christo and Jeanne-Claude

Wrapped Coast – One Million Square Feet, Little Bay, Sydney, Australia, 1968–69 was the first major environmental project created by the iconic artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, more than a decade before they became famous for large-scale environmental projects at sites around the world. Wrapped Coast was the largest single artwork that had ever been made. Larger than Mount Rushmore, the expanse was so vast that no one vantage point allowed a complete view; instead, visitors walked for an hour to cross its surface. Two-and-a-half kilometres of coast and cliffs up to 26 metres high were shrouded in fabric and rope, appearing like a moonscape, alpine snowfield or Arctic terrain, transformed by sweeping winds into rivulets and billowing sails.

In 1967, Christo had already made his first drawings for a wrapped coastline, initially planned for California as a ‘packed coast’. The following year, Christo and Jeanne-Claude welcomed the young Australian collector John Kaldor to their home in New York. Kaldor invited them to Australia as part of the Alcorso-Sekers Travelling Scholarship and it became the first visit to Australia for international artists to make new work and the first in the series of Kaldor Public Art Projects.

Kaldor secured a site 14.5 kilometres south-east of the city centre at Little Bay and a team of more than 100 workers and 11 volunteers spent four weeks climbing, wrapping, sewing and securing the work in an atmosphere of camaraderie that defined the mood and memory of the experience. Somewhere between a monument and an event, Wrapped Coast was an extraordinary project that changed perceptions and had an enormous impact on art in Australia.

An exhibition, Drawings and Collages, was held at Central Street Gallery in Sydney, showing photographs by Harry Shunk of Wrapped Coast in progress, Christo’s preparatory drawings, wrapped roses, and 70 bales of hay stacked and packaged in black plastic. The concept for Wrapped Hay was also refashioned for Melbourne as the centre of Australia’s wool industry in a large new project for the National Gallery of Victoria. During November 1969, Wool Works saw 75 wool bales stacked inside the gallery and two truckloads of wool bales arranged and wrapped outside in the gallery’s Murdoch Court.

Fifty years on, Christo and Jeanne-Claude are now famous for their environmental projects. They have travelled the globe, erecting offices and setting up project teams and new communities as they unfurl fabrics to create ‘temporary monuments’. Since Wrapped Coast, some of their best-known works have been Valley Curtain, Grand Hogback, Rifle, Colorado, 1970–72; Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972–76; Surrounded Islands, Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida, 1980–83; The Pont Neuf Wrapped, Paris, 1975–85; The Umbrellas, Japan–USA, 1984–91; Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin, 1971–95 and The Gates, Central Park, New York City, 1979–2005.