Christo (1935-2020)

John Hill
1. June 2020
Christo at The Floating Piers, June 2016 (Photo: Wolfgang Volz)

The artist Christo, who long collaborated with his wife, Jeanne-Claude, on major public artworks around the world, died on May 31 at his home in New York City. He was 84.

The news of Christo's death was reported yesterday on the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Twitter feed, which indicated that the wrapping of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris is still on track for a September 2021 unveiling. That installation was planned for this year but was delayed until next year due to the coronavirus pandemic. L'Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped was conceived in 1962 and will follow numerous other "wrapped" projects that were realized in the meantime. Most notable was the Wrapped Reichstag, which was on display in Berlin for two weeks in June 1995 — 23 years after it was conceived.

Although all of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's artworks were on display for brief periods (their latest, The Floating Piers, was accessible to the public for two weeks in the summer of 2016), they took many years to complete, due to the large scale of their proposals, the bureaucratic approvals needed to build them, and the sale of artworks needed to pay for them. But they saw the process of realizing the installations as an integral part of the art; as important as the completed artworks themselves. And the process could be political beyond obtaining permits: in 2017 Christo cancelled Over the River, which was in the works since 1992 and was approved in 2015, in protest of the Trump administration (it would have temporarily occupied federally owned land).

Other shared traits among the artworks of Christo and Jeanne-Claude are massive scale, a preference for wrapped fabric, and the artworks being publicly accessible. The first can be grasped in The London Mastaba installed two years ago. Made from 7,500 oil barrels, the floating sculpture was a scale model for The Mastaba planned for Abu Dhabi; if built the latter will be made of 410,000 barrels stacked nearly 500 feet high! While those two projects use oil barrels as a critique of contemporary culture, most of the duo's artworks have used fabric to wrap natural landforms and manmade buildings, shrouding the latter in silver but highlighting the former in bold colors. Lastly, the accessible nature of their artworks is most pronounced in The Gates, which added 7,500 gates hung with saffron fabric astride 23 miles of paths of New York's Central Park in February 2005. These traits, among others, have made the couple's artworks especially appealing to architects.


Christo and Jeanne-Claude at The Gates, February 2005 (Photo: Wolfgang Volz)
A partial statement from the Christo and Jeanne-Claude website:

Artist Christo Vladimirov Javacheff, known as Christo, passed away of natural causes today, on May 31, 2020, at his home in New York City. He was 84 years old.

Christo was born on June 13, 1935 in Gabrovo, Bulgaria. He left Bulgaria in 1957, first to Prague, Czechoslovakia, and then escaped to Vienna, Austria, then moved to Geneva, Switzerland. In 1958, Christo went to Paris, where he met Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon, not only his wife but life partner in the creation of monumental environmental works of art. Jeanne-Claude passed away on November 18, 2009. Christo lived in New York City for 56 years.


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