If any building ever needed wrapping, it was Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, a banal, one-story edifice (with a below-ground gallery) having about as much architectural charm as an old shoe box. Built in the early 1900s, it had once been a bakery and, later, the headquarters of Playboy Enterprises.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude considered the building "perfect," because "it looks like a package already, very anonymous. Its façade is a fake wall covering the original structure." Although they had just wrapped the Kunsthalle Bern in translucent polypropylene, the artists decided "for aesthetic reasons" to shroud the Chicago museum in greenish-brown tarpaulin, which would give greater physical presence to the building and make a better contrast with the snow.
The wrapping commenced on January 15, 1969. Students from the school of the Chicago Art Institute of Design assisted for two days on the outside of the building, which was garbed in 10,000 square feet (930 square meters) of heavy tarpaulin and 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) of Manila rope. Every precaution was taken to assure the public’s safety. No exits were covered, no windows existed to cover, and small openings were cut in the tarpaulin to keep the building's air vents unobstructed. To be doubly safe, the museum's director, Jan van der Marck, prevailed upon Christo and Jeanne-Claude not to wrap the roof of the museum.
The finished package had a stateliness and sobriety that considerably enhanced the building. In contrast to the Bern Kunsthalle, with its translucent veil billowing like a loose summer garment, the Chicago museum was tightly swathed in heavy tarpaulins, as if bundled against the city's blustery winter winds and snow. As a finishing touch, Christo wrapped the vertical signpost outside the museum in transparent polyethylene.
In conjunction with the wrapping of the museum, the artists made a complementary work for the interior, Wrapped Floor and Stairway. The museum’s lower gallery had first been emptied of everything and then painted white. When the painters were through they removed their drop cloths and Christo and Jeanne-Claude laid 2,800 square feet (260 square meters) of their off-white drop cloth, secured with ropes. The cotton drop cloths had been carefully selected for their particular color and texture.
Excerpt from the book Christo by David Bourdon, Harry N. Abrams Publishers, New York, 1971. Edited in 2011.