NEW YORK — Christo, known for his massive, ephemeral public arts projects, died Sunday at his home in New York. He was 84.
The work of Christo and his late wife Jeanne-Claude was defined by massive, ambitious art projects that quickly disappeared soon after they were erected. In 2005, he installed more than 7,500 vinyl gates in New York’s Central Park and and wrapped the Reichstag in Berlin in fabric with an aluminum sheen in 1995. Their self-financed $26 million Umbrellas project erected 1,340 blue umbrellas installed in Japan and 1,760 blue umbrellas in Southern California in 1991.
In Chicago in 1969, he wrapped the Museum of Contemporary Art, then at 237 E. Ontario, in canvas, inside and out. It was the first U.S. public building to be wrapped by the artist.
In 1985, Christo led a team of 300 workers in wrapping the Pont-Neuf bridge in Paris, a project left intact for 14 days. “You get an abstraction of a bridge, the essence of a bridge by removing all the details and ornaments,” he explained in a lecture at Chicago’s MCA a decade later.
The statement said the artist’s next project, “L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped,” is slated to appear in 2021 in Paris as planned. An exhibition about Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s work is also scheduled to run from July through October at the Centre Georges Pompidou.
“Christo lived his life to the fullest, not only dreaming up what seemed impossible but realizing it,” his office said in a statement. “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.”
Born in Bulgaria in 1935, Christo Vladimirov Javacheff studied at the Fine Arts Academy in Sofia before moving to Prague in 1957, then Vienna, then Geneva. It was in Paris in 1958 where he met Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon. They were born on the same day (June 13) in the same year (1935), and, according to him, “in the same moment” and would become partners in life and art.
Christo was already wrapping smaller found objects, like cars and furniture. After he met Jeanne-Claude, their scale broadened. Within three years they were working together on an installation of oil drums and tarp on the docks in Cologne.
Although their large-scale outdoor and indoor projects were collaborative, they were all credited solely to Christo until 1994, when they revealed Jeanne-Claude’s contributions. The decision, they said, was theirs and deliberate since it was difficult enough for even one artist to make a name for himself.
The pair moved to New York in 1964, where they liked to say that they were illegal aliens in an illegal building in SoHo for a few years. They eventually bought that building and would call the city home for the rest of their lives.
Jeanne-Claude died in 2009 at age 74 from complications of a brain aneurysm. After her death, Christo said she was argumentative and very critical and always asking questions and he missed all of that very much.
In a 2018 interview with The Art Newspaper, Christo spoke about his signature wrapping aesthetic. In the instance of the Reichstag, he said, covering it with fabric made the Victorian sculptures, ornament and decoration disappear and “highlight the principal proportion of architecture.”
“But, like classical sculpture, all our wrapped projects are not solid buildings; they are moving with the wind, they are breathing,” he said. “The fabric is very sensual and inviting; it’s like a skin.”
The two made a point of paying for all of their works on their own and did not accept scholarship or donations.
“I like to be absolutely free, to be totally irrational with no justification for what I like to do,” he said. “I will not give up one centimeter of my freedom for anything.”