Gasometer Oberhausen, the largest gas storage silo in Europe, is one of the rare sites that Christo has taken on twice: once in 1998 with a wall made out of 13,000 oil barrels, and for a second time this year, with a new installation called Big Air Package. The new show–which opened on March 16–fills the massive steel silo with 61,000 square feet of ethereal white polyester. The promoters for the project bill it as the largest indoor sculpture ever created.
The Gasometer was built in 1927, when such silos were still used to store and regulate natural gas in cities across Europe and America (the last holder in New York was demolished in 1996, and most gas is stored today in underground reservoirs). In typical German fashion, it was turned into an art space in the 1990s, hosting large-scale installations like this scale model of the solar system. It holds more than a half million cubic feet of air (or at one time, gas) and towers 300 feet above ground level, making it an architectural white whale for Christo and his late partner Jeanne-Claude, who as a duo were fascinated with scale and landscape.
The massive white balloon requires consistent air pressure supplied by two giant fans at its base, so visitors enter through an airlock, Contagion-style. Inside, they’re welcome to move around as they wish–light from projectors play across the surface of the balloon, which is also lit from the Gasometer’s massive skylights. “When the Big Air Package was finally installed, it was absolutely unexpected what I saw,” Christo says in a statement. “The fabric very much transports the light. You are virtually swimming in light.”
On the ground floor of the structure, a retrospective of the duo’s work rounds out the occasion. This is Christo’s first new art work since the death of Jeanne-Claude, in 2009. “All interpretations of our works are legitimate, but there is no purpose other than to create something beautiful,” he adds. “Jeanne-Claude would always say, ‘we only do works of joy and beauty.’”
You can see Big Air Package until December of 2013.