Christo and Jeanne-Claude became famous in 1963, the last year they lived in Europe, and moved permanently to New York in 1964. It was obviously a time of furious imaginative energy for Christo, who was thinking up new projects by the second. He conceived of building enormous structures from oil barrels; he oversaw the design of an inflatable obelisk that is obscenely phallic; but most important, he wanted to wrap just about anything that would stand still, including large buildings and sculpture. Some of these early, never-realized proposals, like wrapping the Ecole Militaire in Paris or two buildings in Lower Manhattan, are absolutely sublime — and so forward-looking, they're just as sharp and crisp intellectually and visually as they were forty-plus years ago.

But Christo also imagined intimate expressions of the same sensibility in which obscuring something was the key gesture. He sketched out storefronts with their windows blocked out by cloth. There are even a row of maquettes of shop windows partly lined with paper blocking the view.

The wrapping of buildings easily segued into the environmental works that established Christo and Jeanne-Claude's combined reputation. Oddly enough, one of the first of these was in Colorado. In 1972, they erected "Valley Curtain," an orange fabric that was stretched across Rifle Gap. Despite being ripped to shreds within hours of its unfurling, "Valley Curtain" brought Christo and Jeanne-Claude to the top ranks of international contemporary art. "Valley Curtain" is represented by photographic prints taken by the pair's longtime documentary photographer, Wolfgang Volz. There are also Volz images of "Running Fence," from 1976, and of "Surrounded Islands," from 1983.

"Valley Curtain," by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Photograph by Wolfgang Volz.
"Valley Curtain," by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Photograph by Wolfgang Volz.

A number of the prints feature unusual elements as their centerpieces. The central image has been machine-cut out of the print and then put back in place once it was hand-wrapped in actual fabric and tied with actual string. Some of these are very pop art, like the wrapped wagon, but others look almost impressionist, with the wrapping masking out the details like the creamy strokes of a Monet painting.

The show works its way around the warren of spaces that makes up the CVA, with the back area showing various videos about Christo and Jeanne-Claude in a continuous display. The final leg of the show, which is dominated by pieces related to "Over the River," is back in the entry gallery. There are collages in which Christo's drawings of the canopies are laid on top of copies of photos of the river, along with photos and maps of the river as it is. Like everything else, they're gorgeous.

Even if you're ho-hum about Christo and could care less about Jeanne-Claude, their unified duet is definitely one of the best viewing bets in town this season. I daresay it's one of the best shows ever at the CVA.

Denver abstractionist Dale Chisman died last weekend. Read more about his life and work at blogs.westword.com/latestword.

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