Christo (Christo Javacheff)

Wrapped Cans. Part of Inventory


Not on display

Christo (Christo Javacheff) 1935 – 2020
Original title
Metal, canvas and string
Each can:120 × 105 (diameter) mm
Overall display dimensions can vary, approx overall official view dims: 365 × 350 × 240mm.
Purchased 1981

Display caption

Christo began wrapping and transforming ordinary objects, such as these enamel paint tins, in Paris in the late 1950s. The paint tins were bought from a hardware store, or retrieved from discarded rubbish. As the title suggests, this work was intended as part of a room-sized work called Inventory which included numerous wrapped, painted and stacked bottles, tins, barrels and wooden boxes, reflecting Christo's preoccupation with the twentieth-century phenomenon of packaging.

Gallery label, March 2003

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Catalogue entry


Inscribed ‘Christo 60’ in pencil on flat circular base (or top) of each of the two wrapped tins
Black paint, canvas, string and white ground lacquer on coated metal
Two wrapped tins: approx 5 × 4 1/4 (12.7 × 10.8), four painted tins: approx 4 3/4 × 4 1/2 (12.1 × 10.5)
Purchased at Sotheby's (Grant-in-Aid) 1981
Prov: Vera Grossen (gift from the artist) sold at Sotheby's, London, 2 July 1981, lot 546 colour
Lit: Lawrence Alloway, Christo, 1969, p.v (similar wrapped and painted tins colour pl.1); David Bourdon, Christo, New York 1970, p.21

The work consists of six small paint tins, three painted black, two wrapped in canvas and string and one left unaltered. Of the three painted tins, two are in black gloss, the other matt. The work is accompanied by a letter (in the Tate Gallery Archive) written in French by Christo to its original owner demonstrating, by means of four small diagrams, how the tins might be arranged. Various permutations are possible, although they should all emphasise the idea of stacking which was so central to Christo's art at this early date.

The artist writes (letter to the compiler, 28 November 1982): ‘Today, such cans (I still have quite a few myself) are titled: Wrapped Cans 1958–60.

'They were titled “Packed Cans 1958–60” by David Bourdon when he wrote my monography (Abrams Publications, 1970) because he was trying to help me find a good translation for the French word “Empaquetées” which was the word I was using while I lived in Paris from 1958 to 64.

'It took me a while to realize that “Empaquetées” as far as I am concerned after 18 years in the USA, is better translated by “Wrapped”.

'In 1958, 59 and 60, I used the French word “Inventaires” and I used the generic word Inventaires for each and all of the components of a large group of works which included:
Wrapped and non altered boxes (crates)
Wrapped and non altered Oil Barrels
Wrapped and non altered bottles
Wrapped and non altered cans
Some wrapped objects, such as chairs
And 3 non identifiable wrapped objects which I called “Pichenette”.

'There were shelves and screens, on the shelves there were many cans and bottles, some could be seen easily, some were partially hidden behind the screen (a type of mosquito net for windows).

'The whole group of “Inventaires” was meant to be presented in the corner of a room. [In conversation with the compiler, 28 September 1981, the artist spoke of his fascination with house-moving rituals.]

'All together I have probably made between 70 to 100 cans, between 1958 and 1960. I have no possible way to remember the precise date that I made your 6 cans.

'The cans were enamel paint cans that I sometimes bought at the House paint store, sometimes found in the garbage.

'After a can's content had been used, I had the choice to either wrap it, or to leave it as it was. I did not paint all of those cans that were not wrapped, often the paint that is on them comes from the dripping while being used, some of the cans even have their own labels or part of labels still apparent.

'I worked in that same manner with the Oil Barrels, in that period of time, some barrels were wrapped and some were left with their rust and oily marks on them, while some were in better condition, with their industrial colors still on them.

'The Lady to whom I gave your 6 cans as a present is Vera Grossen (I hope it is the correct spelling?), she had been kind enough to help me in finding people in Geneva who wanted their portraits painted.

'Painting portraits was my main source of revenues in addition of washing dishes in Restaurants.

'The first person to ever buy, with real money ($50) one of the Wrapped Cans was the artist Lucio Fontana, in 1958.

'I still have the Barrels that were in the “Inventaires” but the boxes have been destroyed by the Landlord in Gentilly, because I was late in my rent. The Barrels, cans, bottles, chairs and pichenettes (3) were in a different storage and were saved...

'... I had given as a present a few Cans to friends in Paris, but their Spanish maid threw them in the garbage can the next morning, and they could not be found ...’

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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