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5 works that defined the life and career of Bulgarian artist Christo

5 works that defined the life and career of Bulgarian artist Christo
Image: qwesy qwesy via Wikimedia

1 June 2020

Christo, the Bulgarian-born artist who rose to fame by wrapping urban and natural landmarks in recyclable fabric or plastic, has died at home in New York at the age of 84.

Born Christo Vladimirov Javacheff, the artist worked together with his wife Jeanne-Claude from the late 1950s, when they first met in Paris, until she died in 2009. Their first major art project, “Wrapped Barrels”, consisted of covering oil barrels in the harbour of the German city of Cologne with material. Creating for “joy” and “beauty”, as well as to highlight environmental and political issues, the artistic couple recycled materials after use and self-financed their projects, which they saw as a sign of independence from the art world. Christo famously described himself as an “educated Bulgarian-Marxist who has learned to use capitalism for his art.”

We’ve selected five of the duo’s most striking works to celebrate Christo’s life and career.

Wrapped Reichstag, 1995

Arguably the couple’s most famous work, “Wrapped Reichstag” saw Christo and Jean-Claude cover the German parliament building in just under 30,000 square metres of fireproof polypropylene fabric, covered by an aluminium layer. As well as requiring around 15 kilometres of rope, the project also took some 90 climbers five weeks to put in place. The duo said that the use of fabric in their installation reflected “impermanence” — which, after the unification of East and West Germany, resonated politically.

The Iron Curtain, 1962

But “Wrapped Reichstag” was not the artistic couple’s first work to address the Berlin Wall. In 1962, only a year after the Berlin Wall was built, Christo and Jeanne-Claude blocked the Rue Visconti in Paris with their installation “The Iron Curtain” (or “Rideau de Fer”) — a 35 metre high barricade made from 89 found metal oil barrels. “This ‘iron curtain’ can be used as a barricade during a period of public work in the street, or to transform the street into a dead end,” the artists said. Following negotiations with the police, the installation lasted for eight hours before being dismantled.

Surrounded Islands, 1980

The artists did not just intervene in urban landscapes. Perhaps their most visually striking work was “Surrounded Islands” in 1980, for which they rented 11 islands in Miami’s Biscayne Bay and surrounded them with bright pink polypropylene over the course of three weeks. Following public outcry that the artwork posed a danger to wildlife, the artists insisted they had restored the site to its original state, cleaning the water of 40 tonnes of rubbish.

Wrapped Trees, 1997-1998

Many of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s artworks took decades of planning. After 32 years of prep work, in 1997-1998, the duo finally put up their installation “Wrapped Trees”, in Berower Park, in the Swiss municipality of Riehen. Using unique patterns based on the shapes of individual branches, they wrapped 178 trees.

Wrapped Arc de Triomphe, Paris, 2021

Christo’s next project, scheduled between 18 September and 3 October 2021, was due to see the artist cover the Arc de Triomphe in Paris in fabric, according to a 1962 sketch. In addition, a major exhibition will be celebrating Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s work at Paris’ Pompidou Centre between 1 July and 19 October 2020. Much of the display will include pictures, documentation and plans, which the artists often sold to museums to fund their next projects.

In Mark Getlein’s book Living with Art, Christo says, “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.”

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