The first ever exhibition of avant-garde artist Christo in his native Bulgaria opened in Sofia on Monday, giving a rare insight into his spectacular wrapping projects. Christo, 80, has not returned to Bulgaria since emigrating during communism in 1958 and settling in New York in 1964 with his wife and collaborator Jeanne-Claude, who passed away in 2009. His ongoing projects kept him away from the opening of the exhibition in the Sofia City Art Gallery.

But the world famous artist - best known for wrapping in fabric the Reichstag in Berlin and Paris's Pont Neuf bridge - arranged the presentation of his works personally, even if from afar, the gallery's chief curator Maria Vasileva told AFP.

The 133 prints and objects offer an overview of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's creative process down the years, covering many of their projects from the early 1960s.

Rows of black-and-white and colour lithographs with collages of cloth samples, thread, masking tape, city maps and photographs showed some of the couple's most famous projects, including the Reichstag, Pont Neuf and "surrounded islands" in Florida's Biscayne Bay.

A real red-and-yellow oil drum accompanied the presentation of works in progress, such as making a mastaba, or ancient Egyptian tomb, in Abu Dhabi from oil barrels.

Planned to be the largest sculpture in the world once complete, it will also be Christo's only permanent large-scale work.

Other photographs, sketches and prints offered a glimpse of the artist's first wrapped objects - bottles, newspapers or payphones - and revealed the plans behind large-scale projects that were never implemented such as the wrapped Arc de Triomphe in Paris or the Opera House in Sidney.

"We see how these spectacular projects were conceived and their path to implementation," Vasileva said. "This exhibition is like a laboratory that shows every step of the concepts - what ideas they had, how they were clarified, which of them were realised," she added.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Prints & Objects, runs until November 22. The exhibition is accompanied by a program of documentaries and lectures on Christo and Jeanne-Claude's life and work.