Motorcycle or Artwork? Christo’s Wrapped Vespa Is Parked at Frieze London

The wrapped Arc de Triomphe, the final realization of a dream that artist Christo had for 60 years before his death last year at 84, is rightly being celebrated, but I’ve always preferred his wrapped vehicles. That Parisian monument isn’t going anywhere, whereas the vehicles might, if they weren’t smothered in cloth. There is something eerie, even uncanny, about their stilled motion and muffled motors. They give new meaning to the driver’s blind spot.

Christo’s first wrapped vehicle seems to have been a Renault that he covered in 1961 for his first solo gallery show, at Galerie Haro Lauhus in Cologne. He moved on, in 1963, to a Volkswagen Beetle, but it was a temporary wrap. He borrowed the car, then new on the market, from a friend, strung it up in fabric, displayed it at Galerie Schmela in Düsseldorf for ten days, and returned it. In 2013, he bought and permanently wrapped a 1963 Beetle, closing the circle on that project.

This week at the Frieze art fair in London, Colnaghi gallery, which has locations in London, Madrid, and New York, is showing Christo’s wrapped Vespa, a project he completed in 1964. It can be yours for somewhere in the range of €1.5 million–€2.5 million (about $1.73 million–$2.3 million). Scooters being all the rage at the moment, there is something timely about the wrapped Vespa. There is also some menacing poetry in the piece when you take into consideration the vehicle’s name: Enrico Piaggio, owner of the company that created the Vespa, christened it after the insect he thought it resembled. (Imagine wrapping a live wasp!)

There’s also a funny story attached to Christo’s wrapped Vespa. Ultan Guilfoyle, who served as an adviser on the Guggenheim Museum’s much-debated 1998 exhibition “The Art of the Motorcycle,” once said that he looked into having the car—without any fabric atop it—included in the show. Christo and Jeanne-Claude apparently wouldn’t let him unwrap the car, so Guilfoyle parted ways with the idea. The very suggestion of unwrapping it apparently offended the artists so much that they remembered it years later, when they ran into Guilfoyle in New York during their huge installation, The Gates, staged in Central Park in 2005.

In 2002, the wrapped Vespa went on view in the exhibition “Paris: Capital of the Arts 1900–1968” at London’s Royal Academy of Arts. That show had a second stop, at the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain. So, in the end, the Vespa got shown at a Guggenheim Museum, after all, in all its wrapped glory.

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