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October 12, 2016—January 29, 2017

Christo, Corridor Store Front

Designed and built in 1967, and shown the following year at Documenta 4 in Kassel, Corridor Store Front is in many ways a key work in Christo’s artistic output. Indeed, the piece brings together several particular features of art in those days, notably the questioning of art’s commodification and the use of modern materials (Plexiglas, aluminum, and ply- wood, which were finding their way into minimal art then). But Corridor Store Front was also a way for Christo (1935, Bulgaria) to connect his work with the history of modernism through one of its venerable motifs, the display window.

In 1963 Christo began showing shop display windows, covering up their insides with paper and opaque cloth. In 1964 he started producing life-size store fronts himself, initially with found objects and later new materials. To do Corridor Store Front, Christo transformed his SoHo apartment in New York into a true production and exhibition space. Once the piece had been built in his living space, it naturally took up a large part of the available volume; the half-open door seen at the end of the corridor here originally allowed people to reach other rooms in the loft. Moreover, it was possible to visit this piece of art. The production site thus became the exhibition venue. A year later the piece was transported to Germany. Christo didn’t use a ready-made store display window. But to display and sell what exactly? Certainly not products offered to consumers in a so-called consumer society, which was just then grappling with major questions about its future (Corridor Store Front dates from the same period as May 1968 and the student protest movements). Rather, by removing every trace of marketable goods from this corridor store front, it is emptiness, the void, that is put on display here, not a product to be admired (which also makes this piece a barely disguised homage to the 1958 void exhibition that Yves Klein mounted in Paris). Corridor Store Front appeared on the New York art scene just around the time that the question of art’s relationship to the world of commerce was being raised. Indeed, in 1961, for instance, Claes Oldenburg had opened The Store in his studio. With that piece, the production site of artworks becomes a sales location like any other, and the artist in his shop offers all the requisite products for satisfying our daily needs, that is, what is for sale is on the order of immediately consumable goods. Thus, Christo is responding to Oldenburg here by emptying out the store.

This store front in the form of a hallway is also an integral part of the history of depicting shops. In the late 19th century, for example, Eugène Atget photographed the streets of Paris and in particular the fronts of shops. It is an iconography that overall devotes quite a lot of space to goods on sale and their public display in cities. Later, it would be the most inventive artists who were to seize on the shop window—or store fronts—as a place to make art. Marcel Duchamp, for instance, drew the door of the Gradiva Gallery, that André Breton opened in 1937 at 31, rue de Seine, in Paris. Several years after that, he was to create an installation, with the same André Breton, in the shop window of the Gotham Book Mart in New York, 9 and 10 April 1945, in conjunction with the  bookshop’s  promotion  of  Breton’s  Arcane  17  (notably the window also featured a work by Matta). In the autumn of the same year, Duchamp put together another installation, this time working with Enrico Donati, in the window of the Brentano’s bookstore on New York’s Fifth Avenue, to mark the sale of an expanded edition of Le Surréalisme et la peinture. A little closer to us, Andy Warhol showed his first paintings in 1961 in the window of the Bonwit Teller department store in New York, among the mannequins sporting high-fashion dresses. This diverse range of examples lays out a genealogy that clearly includes Corridor Store Front. Each moment of that genealogy may be no more than an exploration of what Marx calls in Capital the “fetishism of commodities.” Except that Christo seems to have pushed that exploration to the limit. By removing the commodities from the shop window, now transformed into an empty site, he points up the inanity of the social and political play centered on it.