Christo's full name is Christo Vladimirov Javacheff and he was born in Bulgaria in 1935. His father owned a chemical manufacturing business and his mother was at one time active in politics. He is married to Jeanne-Claude (de Guillebou), who was also born in 1935, in France. By a coincidence of fate, they were both born on the same day, June 13. Jeanne-Claude collaborates with Christo on many of his projects and is an important partner in their art making endeavors.
Christo attended the Fine Arts Academy in Sofia from 1952 to 1956, where he studied theatre and stage design. The cultural atmosphere was freer in Prague, Czechoslovakia, so Christo studied and worked at the avant-garde Burian Theatre in 1956. There he was introduced to modern art, but three months later, he fled to the West as the Russians suppressed the Hungarian uprisings.
In 1957, he studied at the Fine Arts Academy in Vienna and then moved to Paris. His experiences in Paris in 1958 with a group of artists called the Nouveau Realists, resulted in sculptures involving bottles, tin cans, oil drums, and boxes. Some of these sculptures were wrapped in cloth and string or painted. His first packages were called "Empaquettages," and his wrapped objects were called "Emballages."
Nouveau Réalisme was a movement similar to American and British Pop art, which is developed in a number of countries on the European continent. Christo, like many of the artists involved Pop art, was drawing attention to the commonplace or familiar object and removing it from its usual function. He tightly wrapped cars and furniture in various materials, which made them unrecognizable and gave them an ambiguous and mysterious presence.
In the 1960s, Christo began working with oil drums because they were both cheap and unbreakable, and the largest containers he could find. His now-famous "Iron Curtain- Wall of Oil Barrels" consisted of 204-stacked barrels, four meters high, that temporarily blocked traffic on the rue Viconti in Paris for an evening in 1962. This was Christo's first statement on the construction of the Berlin Wall. Other projects of the 1960's included the wrapping of motorcycles, bicycles, cars, road signs, and female models in layers of semi-transparent plastic polythene and other materials and tying them with rope.
When Christo moved to New York City in 1964, he made life-size replicas of "Store Fronts," which were shrouded and seemed to shield the viewer from the internal space. He then shrouded the windows of long corridors. Christo's interest then turned to the interiors of the corridors, which were large empty rooms with blank walls and doors that led nowhere. These projects led him to conceive of larger and larger projects and in 1968 he created "Air Package," a 280 foot high inflated sculpture at Documenta 4 in Kassel, Germany.
By now his interests had separated him from the Nouveau Realists, and although Christo is difficult to categorize, his work falls into the area of site-specific sculpture and earthworks. Many of his works are very large and consume huge amounts of money. They usually start with a proposal, which can take the form of a drawing, a photomontage, or a model. Once the proposal is ready the challenge is then to persuade the people who own or control the space for the proposed project to allow it to be built. This sometimes takes years or even decades to accomplish, and sometimes is impossible to accomplish. A second challenge is raising the money to build the projects which often costs millions of dollars. All of these activities are seen by Christo as part of the art.
Before 1968, he had proposed wrapping several buildings in different locations. It wasn't until 1968 that several of these proposals were realized and in that year Christo packaged a fountain, a medieval tower in Spoleto, Italy, and wrapped museums in Switzerland and Chicago. By wrapping a structure, Christo causes an ambiguous transformation. The object resembles neither architecture nor sculpture. The wrapped buildings are really architecture acting like an object. However, the buildings keep their function even though they are concealed.
In 1969 and 1970, Christo completed his first very large landscape project. This project, titled "Wrapped Coast- Little Bay- One Million Square Feet," was completed near Sydney, Australia. For this project, he covered a rocky, mile-long portion of the Australian coastline with 40,000 yards polythene sheeting and 36 miles of rope polypropylene rope. The project cost an estimated $560,000. At this point it should be made clear that the money for the projects comes from the sale of Christo's work, and he does not depend on grants from governmental agencies. Money is raised for these projects through the sale of drawings, prints, and the film rights for the projects.
Christo went on to complete "Valley Curtain" in Rifle Gap, Colorado, in 1972. This landscape project was conceived as a great, bright-orange-dyed nylon curtain, weighing four tons, hung between two mountains 1,370 feet apart. The curtain was 365 feet high, took 200,000 square feet of fabric, 110,000 lbs. of steel cable, and 800 tons of concrete. It was destroyed by a sandstorm the day after its completion. The project cost $850,000. Christo's projects are temporary, but this one was particularly short in duration due to natural forces, it had been expected to stay up for two weeks. As you can see, a number of major problems are associated with the landscape projects. These include, but are not limited to, logistics, weather, opposition by environmentalists, and restoring the landscape to its former condition.
Christo's next major project was "Running Fence" (1972-1976), which was an eighteen-foot-high ribbon of white woven nylon fabric that ran twenty-four-and-a-half miles in length in Sonoma and Marin counties in California, before ending in the Pacific Ocean. After much opposition, permission was granted by fifty-nine landowners and fifteen governmental bodies. Through his courtesy, persistence, and sincerity, Christo won over his skeptics. The cost of this project was over three million dollars and the fence was in place for two weeks. There is a wonderful movie documenting the process that is sometimes shown on PBS. We would recommend it highly, should it be shown in your area.
Another of Christo's spectacular project was "Surrounded Islands" (1983) in Miami's Biscayne Bay. With his 430 assistants, many of them art students from around the United States, Christo girdled 11 small islands with floating bright-pink polypropane skirts that fanned out 200 feet from the islands. This project cost 3.5 million dollars.
In 1985, Christo went on to wrap the Pont Neuf, Paris' oldest bridge, with 440,000 square feet of fabric and 43,000 ft of rope. The wrapping lasted for two weeks, as planned. The fabric was secured with 12 tons of steel chains encircling the base of each tower. The cost of the project was $2,500,000.
In 1991, Christo did a major project in Japan and California called "The Umbrellas: Joint Project for Japan and USA." The work consisted of 3,100 twenty-foot tall umbrellas, 1,340 blue ones in Japan and 1,760 yellow ones in California.
One of his most ambitious projects, which he began planning for in 1972 and completed in 1995, involved the Reichstag, an important government building in Berlin.The wrapping of this building was impossible for many years because it required the permission of both the East and West German governments. The project was realized only after the reunification of Germany under a single government.
In February of 2005, Christo and Jeanne-Claude developed The Gates Project, in which 7,503, arch-like "gates," were placed over the paths inside New York City's Central Park. Within the top of each 16 foot-tall gate hung an orange banner that created dynamic patterns of movement with the wind and changing light. See a video about The Gates Project at https://youtu.be/_bADfh_JLLo.
Most recently, Christo and Jeanne-Claude's project Over The River was to be constructed on the Arkansas River in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The project involved horizontally suspending 6.7 miles of reflective, translucent fabric panels high above the water. After spending more than $6 million on environmental studies, design engineering, and wind-tunnel testing of fabrics; and after producing preparatory drawings, collages, and scale models, the artists cancelled the project in January 2017 in protest of the election of President Donald Trump.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude continue to fund their artistic practice with the sale of preparatory drawings, collages and films of their installations.
Page author: C.A. & C.F.