At Large  June 1, 2020  Chandra Noyes

Christo, Famed Installation Artist, Dead at 84

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The Pont Neuf, Wrapped, 1985.

One of the world’s most visible and visionary conceptual artist has died. Christo Vladimirov Javacheff, known as Christo, worked for decades with his wife and artistic partner, Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon, to create massive installations around the world.

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Christo in 2009.

Since Jeanne-Claude’s death in 2009, Christo has continued their work, changing and activating environments with his unique interventions. Christo died yesterday at 84 in his New York City apartment.

Christo’s most recent project, The London Mastaba, was a towering assemblage of over 7,000 oil barrels, which floated on Hyde Park’s Serpentine Lake in 2018. Like much of his work, The London Mastaba was visually simple, but conceptually and logistically complex.

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Wrapped Reichstag, 1995.

The works Christo and Jeanne-Claude are best-knows for are their wrapping of monuments in giant sheets of fabric. Nearly 1.1 million square feet of fireproof polypropylene fabric with 9.3 miles of rope were used to completely cover Berlin’s Reichstag building in 1995. A plan in the works for decades, the installation drew millions of visitors.

Christo’s next project was to wrap the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Set to take place in October 2021, Christo and Jeanne-Claude had been long been planning and working to get permission for this project. For many of their works, getting access to buildings and landscapes from private owners and governments is a process as complex as creating the work itself. In fact, they considered political lobbying, fundraising, engineering, and environmental impact studies as part of the artistic work. 

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who shared a birthday, met in 1958, and their artistic collaboration began soon after. For much of their career, Christo was given sole credit for their works, a strategic decision the couple made to further their career. In 1994, he began insisting on fully sharing the bill with Jeanne-Claude, and retroactively added her name to all of this works, reflecting the collaborative nature of their relationship.

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The Gates, 2005, installed in New York City's Central Park.

Through interventions in big cities, like 2005’s The Gates in Central Park and 1985’s wrapping of the Pont-Neuf in Paris, the artists changed the way people saw and interacted with their cities, bring new life to settings many have become accustomed to. By hiding buildings and monuments behind fabric, their installations revealed new meanings behind them.

Bill Gillette, National Archives and Records Administration

The Curtain, 1972.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s land art works similarly activated the natural world. The Curtain, installed in Colorado in 1972, brought a new perspective to the landscape, though the project was very quickly destroyed by high winds. Their massive The Umbrellas project (1984-1991) covered portions of the Californian and Japanese coasts with giant umbrellas. Like many of their environmental works, the installation united the landscape in a new way.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude funded their projects, some of which cost tens of millions of dollars, themselves, though the sales of preparatory drawings and prints. Though the artists are gone, their legacy and work will continue. Christo’s studio has announced that the wrapping of the Arc de Triomphe, a project the artists first envisioned in 1962, will go on as planned.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is Managing Editor for Art & Object.

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