In 1961, the married artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude traveled to an anonymous strip of dockside in Cologne to wrap several stacks of oil drums, some more than 15 feet high, with sheets of tarpaulin. It was part of Christo’s nearby gallery exhibition, an extension of his recent obsession with covering cans in fabric in order to explore their sculptural qualities. As the couple stood back to admire their handiwork—a strange act of artistic expression—something clicked.
Over the next few decades they went on to wrap, in endless quantities of brightly colored fabric, the Pont Neuf, in Paris; the Reichstag, in Berlin; a stretch of Australian coastline larger than Mount Rushmore; and 11 islands in Biscayne Bay, Florida. These outdoor structural happenings—for the amount of time they existed—were the most monumental artworks of the last century. Critics have called them “environmental interventions” that provide “a shared experience for every citizen,” though Jeanne-Claude is on record saying, “Our art has absolutely no purpose, except to be a work of art.”