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b. 1935, Bulgaria

Christo Biography

Christo and Jeanne-Claude are known for their large-scale installations that occupy and integrate public space. Miles of bright fabric and thousands of commonplace objects de-familiarise known landscapes, effacing barriers between artwork and environment.

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Early Life and Influences

Christo Vladimirov Javacheff was born in 1935 in the small town of Gabrovo, Bulgaria. His family was well-connected to the group of artists and intellectuals in the region. His mother, Tzveta Dimitrova, was a political activist and had been a secretary at the National Academy of Art in Sofia.

Christo started making art at a young age inspired by his parents' social circle, and under the encouragement of professors from the Academy. He enrolled at the National Academy of Art in 1952, where he assisted in making propaganda posters rendered in the style of Socialist Realism, the government-sanctioned method of art production.

Stateless

After graduation, Christo moved to Prague, where he studied theatre design with the Burian Theatre. As the Hungarian Revolution broke out in 1956, he fled Prague, hidden in a train wagon carrying medical supplies. He arrived in Vienna having exchanged his Bulgarian citizenship for political asylum.

Christo studied sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, before leaving for Geneva, then Paris. He arrived in the city in 1958, where he stayed for the next six years and met his partner and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon.

Partnership and Collaboration

In Paris, Christo painted portraits in the streets signed under the name 'Javacheff'. He met Jeanne-Claude through her mother, who commissioned a self-portrait. When the pair learned they were born the same time— to the hour—a partnership was quickly formed. The couple had a son in 1960 and moved to New York City four years later.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude became recognised in the 1960s, as they experimented with oil barrels made into large-scale installations. These resulted in works like Wall of Oil Barrels — The Iron Curtain (1962), in which oil barrels were stacked to block access through a street.

Imposing Installations

Christo and Jeanne-Claude's large-scale installations modified existing landscapes and public spaces. Wrapped Coast, One Million Square Feet (1969) covered the coast of Little Bay in Sydney with a million square feet of erosion-control fabric. The materials were later recycled and the landscape returned to its prior condition.

Later installations, like The Umbrellas, Japan-USA (1991), were met with criticism. The $26 million project consisting of 3100 umbrellas led to two deaths: a passerby assaulted by a windswept umbrella and a worker involved in the deinstallation of the work.

Nouveau Réalisme

Christo's early works were inspired by the Nouveau Réalisme movement, which made use of everyday objects and materials adapted into multimedia installations. The artist's experimentation with bicycles, beer cans, and road signs drew from artists like Jean Tinguely and Yves Klein, whose work made use of sculptural and kinetic elements to blur the line between artwork and environment.

Later works like The Gates (2005), an installation of 7503 bright orange gateways spread across Central Park in New York, involved multiple stakeholders and generated great public engagement. The project took 26 years, $21 million, and the cooperation of the New York Mayor and the Central Park Conservancy to complete, generating a significant profit.

Wrapped Legacy

When they first arrived in New York, Christo and Jeanne-Claude contemplated the idea of wrapping two skyscrapers together. The idea of wrapping public buildings originated in Paris in 1961, when Christo made a photo collage depicting a wrapped building in a Parisian square.

Following Christo's passing in 2020, L'Arc de Triomphe Wrapped(2021) will be unveiled in Paris as an homage to the artist.

Exhibitions and Awards

Christo and Jeanne-Claude's works are held in major collections across the world. The artist received the Praemium Imperiale in 1995, the International Sculpture Center's Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award in 2004, and the Vilcek Prize in 2006.

Completed projects include Stacked Oil Barrels and Dockside Packages (1961), Air Package (1966), Wrapped Museum of Contemporary Art (1969), Wrapped Monuments (1970), Valley Curtain (1972), The Pont Neuf Wrapped (1985), Wrapped Reichstag (1995), and The London Mastaba (2018).

Select exhibitions include Christo et Jeanne-Claude: Paris!, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2020); Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Barrels and The Mastaba 1958—2018, Serpentine Galleries, London (2018); and Christo and Jeanne-Claude: The Tom Golden Collection, Biggs Museum of American Art, Dover, Delaware (2017). Further exhibitions have been organised by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (2004), Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin (2001), Museum Ludwig in Cologne (1981), and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston (1979).

Website and Instagram

Christo and Jeanne-Claude's website can be found here, and their Instagram can be found here.

Elaine YJ Zheng | Ocula | 2021

Exhibition view: Christo, Nature | Environments, Galerie Gmurzynska, Talstrasse 37, Zürich (11 September–20 November 2021). Courtesy Galerie Gmurzynska.

Christo Featured Artworks

The Umbrellas, Joint Project for Japan and USA by Christo contemporary artwork painting, works on paper, photography, print, drawing
ChristoThe Umbrellas, Joint Project for Japan and USA, 1989Collage in two parts: Pencil, charcoal, wax crayon, pastel, photograph by Wolfgang Volz, enamel paint and topographic map
Galerie Gmurzynska Contact Gallery

Christo Current & Recent Exhibitions

Christo Represented By

Pace Gallery contemporary art gallery in 540 West 25th Street, New York, USA Pace Gallery Beijing, East Hampton, Geneva, Hong Kong, London, New York, Palm Beach, Palo Alto, Seoul

Christo In Ocula Magazine

Christo In Related Press

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