The sad news that the larger than life artist Christo passed away aged 84 was announced on his website on 31 May. Christo Vladimirov Javacheff and Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon were a married couple who created environmental works of art and were intertwined working as a duo. Christo and Jeanne-Claude were born on the same day, June 13, 1935; Christo in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, and Jeanne-Claude in Morocco. They first met in Paris in October 1958 when Christo painted a portrait of Jeanne-Claude’s mother. They then fell in love by creating artwork together.
Beauty, science and art will always triumph.’ We hold those words closely today – Christo
Their works include the wrapping of the Reichstag in Berlin and the Pont-Neuf bridge in Paris, the 39-kilometer-long (24 mi) artwork called Running Fence in Sonoma and Marin counties in California, and The Gates in New York City’s Central Park.
In 2018, Christo unveiled “The London Mastaba,” a floating installation on the Serpentine Lake in London made of more than 7,000 oil barrels. It was the artist’s first major public, outdoor work in the United Kingdom. His next work was to appear in Paris, in September 2021 — the long-awaited wrapping of one of the world’s most famous war memorials, the Arc de Triomphe. In May 2020, Christo told CNN he couldn’t believe it was actually happening. “I never believed that we’d get permission — “I was flabbergasted.”
Credit was given to “Christo” only, until 1994, when the outdoor works and large indoor installations were retroactively credited to “Christo and Jeanne-Claude”.They flew in separate planes: in case one crashed, the other could continue their work.
Jeanne-Claude died, aged 74, on November 18, 2009, from complications of a brain aneurysm. Christo died on May 31, 2020, of natural causes.
Although their work is visually impressive and often controversial as a result of its scale, the artists have repeatedly denied that their projects contain any deeper meaning than their immediate aesthetic impact. The purpose of their art, they contend, is simply to create works of art for joy and beauty and to create new ways of seeing familiar landscapes. Art critic David Bourdon has described Christo’s wrappings as a “revelation through concealment”. To his critics, Christo replies, “I am an artist, and I have to have courage … Do you know that I don’t have any artworks that exist? They all go away when they’re finished. Only the preparatory drawings and collages are left, giving my works an almost legendary character. I think it takes much greater courage to create things to be gone than to create things that will remain.”
Christo was currently preparing to realise one of his and Jeanne-Claude’s long-cherished ambitions — wrapping one of the most famous of all war memorials, the Arc de Triomphe, in Paris, in 25,000 square meters (270,000 square feet) of silver and blue fabric, strung together with 7,000 meters of red rope.
The statement announcing his death also indicated the Paris project would go ahead: “Christo and Jeanne-Claude have always made clear that their artworks in progress be continued after their deaths. L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped (Project for Paris) is still on track for Sept. 18–Oct. 3, 2021.”
The following statement appeared on his 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. Statement from Christo’s office: “Christo lived his life to the fullest, not only dreaming up what seemed impossible but realizing it. Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s artwork brought people together in shared experiences across the globe, and their work lives on in our hearts and memories.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude have always made clear that their artworks in progress be continued after their deaths. Per Christo’s wishes, ‘L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped’ in Paris, France, is still on track for September 18 – October 3, 2021.”
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.
From early wrapped objects to monumental outdoor projects, Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s artwork transcended the traditional bounds of painting, sculpture and architecture. Some of their work included Wrapped Coast, Little Bay in Sydney, Australia (1968–69), Valley Curtain in Colorado (1970–72), Running Fence in California (1972–76), Surrounded Islands in Miami (1980–83), The Pont Neuf Wrapped in Paris (1975–85), The Umbrellas in Japan and California (1984–91), Wrapped Reichstag in Berlin (1972–95), The Gates in New York’s Central Park (1979–2005), The Floating Piers at Italy’s Lake Iseo (2014–16), and The London Mastaba on London’s Serpentine Lake (2016–18).
Christo’s temporary work of art in Paris, France, titled L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped (Project for Paris, Place de l’Étoile), is scheduled for September 18–October 3, 2021. Additionally, a major exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou about Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s work and time in Paris will be on view this year, from July 1–October 19, 2020.
In a 1958 letter Christo wrote, ‘Beauty, science and art will always triumph.’ We hold those words closely today.
Photos P C Robinson © Artlyst 2020