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"Through these family connections we were able to understand the work even better"

The Reichstag is gone.

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"Through these family connections we were able to understand the work even better"

The Reichstag is gone. Christo's wall-filling work, in which he sketched his idea of ​​wrapping the historic building in Berlin in 1987 with charcoal pencil and wax crayon, normally hangs in Ingrid and Thomas Jochheim's living room - directly above the sofa. For many years, the Jochheims have been living with “Wrapped Reichstag (Project for Berlin)”, this mega project that Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude fought for for 24 years until it was finally realized in 1995.

Ingrid and Thomas Jochheim have now separated from the drawing for a few weeks in order to show it in the exhibition "Christo and Jeanne-Claude" in the Düsseldorf Kunstpalast. Other well-known Christo works such as the "Packages", objects tied up in plastic, are now out of the office. A total of 55 works, 31 of which were unique, traveled from Recklinghausen to Düsseldorf. So that the Christo withdrawal symptoms are not too strong, the Jochheims hung a photograph of Wolfgang Volz wrapping the Reichstag on the empty wall, and in the showcases in which they normally present the packages there are now personal photos of the deceased artist couple.

Separating from their works of art is an emotional challenge for the Jochheims. They love the "pure emotion" that emanates from the wrapping actions of the world-famous artist. That is why they have built up one of the largest Christo collections over the past 45 years. What distinguishes the two from conventional collector fans: They were friends with the artist couple. Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Ingrid and Thomas, that is the rare story of a connection between an artist couple in New York and a collector couple from Recklinghausen.

The Jochheims' relationship began in 1976. Ingrid Jochheim's father gave the newlywed couple a "package" for their wedding. "At the time, I was asked if he couldn't have given us something nicer," she says. "But we liked the work so much that we've been dealing with contemporary art ever since." Then they would have bought a work now and again, but at that time it was still a long way from a systematic collection development. That changed around 40 years ago when they got to know American pop art and the young scene in Europe through the Belgian gallery owner Guy Pieters.

Anyone who gets a tour of Thomas Jochheim's house today is surrounded by the who's who of the 1970s to 2000s. Works by Nam June Paik, Arman, Mimmo Rotella, Niki de Saint-Phalle, Andy Warhol and Sam Francis make the house a veritable art gallery. But the culmination of their luck as a collector is Christo: "The works of Christo and Jeanne-Claude are our great love," says Ingrid Jochheim. What fascinates the two about it is the "think big" like the "Surrounded Island" project in Florida with the eleven islands that were bordered by pink-colored fabric. "Where normal people would say: That never works, the two did not shy away," says Ingrid Jochheim. What she personally learned from it is this: "If you really want something, if your heart is attached to it, anything is possible."

The Christos and the Jochheims met in 1995. That was shortly after the German Bundestag had approved the wrapping of the Reichstag. The Jochheims flew to New York to meet Christo in his studio with Guy Pieters. At short notice, the gallery owner was unable to take part in the trip after all. And so they had no choice but to hope that Christo would at least meet the unknown entrepreneurs from the Ruhr area for a drink. That one drink turned into a lifelong friendship. Ingrid and Jeanne-Claude called each other regularly – mostly on Sundays. "Through these family connections, we were able to understand the work even better." How close the connection actually was can also be gauged from the fact that Thomas Jochheim was allowed to celebrate his 50th birthday in 1999 in front of Christo's installation "The Wall, 13,000 Oil Barrels" in the Gasometer Oberhausen . One call was enough - and the party could start.

"We were close to the projects," says Ingrid Jochheim. They traveled to Italy, France, America and Switzerland for the wrappings. When the two collectors talk about Christo's works, you realize how much detailed knowledge they have acquired over the years. And unlike art historians, their explanations are always full of stories and anecdotes.

It is true that collectors are generally primarily concerned with acquiring important works, which is also the case with the Recklinghausen couple. But Ingrid and Thomas Jochheim also need the emotional, personal kick. There is, for example, the story of the red rope that held together the fabric covering the Arc de Triomphe in Paris last year. Normally, the wrapping materials of realized works cannot be bought. They are recycled after dismantling. But thanks to the good contacts that the Jochheims maintain with their family even after their deaths, a piece of the cord now lies decoratively on the carpet in their living room.

The Jochheims never bought directly from Christo, but always from his gallery owner Guy Pieters. They bought older editions at auctions, including projects that could not be implemented. Among other things, they own unique items from the planned wrapping of the Cologne Cathedral. They were recently able to purchase an old-fashioned, boxed telephone from Christo's studio at the Till Breckner gallery in Düsseldorf, which Thomas Jochheim had had his eye on for a long time. Like all collectors, the Jochheims are never entirely satisfied with their previous haul. "We definitely need another blue umbrella," he says. What is meant is the blue version of the giant umbrellas from the "Umbrellas" campaign, which took place in Japan and the USA. They already have the yellow version from California, but also owning the blue, Japanese counterpart would be real collector's luck.

What happens after the death of Christo and Jeanne-Claude? Anyone who thinks the chapter is over for the Jochheims is wrong. They are now working hard to create "Mastaba", a sculpture made of colorful oil drums in the desert of Abu Dhabi with a size that is larger than the pyramids of Giza. Together with the Christo family, they have already made contacts in the Arab world.

"Christo and Jeanne-Claude's projects have always encouraged us to look positively to the future," says Ingrid Jochheim. "Maybe we will succeed in realizing this big dream of our friends."

Kunstpalast Düsseldorf; until 22.1.23

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