Christo (born Christo Vladimirov Javacheff, Bulgarian, June 13, 1935) and Jeanne-Claude (born Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon, June 13, 1935 - November 18, 2009) were a married couple who created environmental works of art. Their works include the wrapping of the Reichstag in Berlin and the Pont-Neuf bridge in Paris, the 24-mile (39 km)-long artwork called Running Fence in Sonoma and Marin counties in California, and The Gates in New York City's Central Park.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude were born on the same date. They first met in Paris in October 1958. Their works were credited to just "Christo" 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.
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 or 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 born in Gabrovo, Bulgaria. His father, Vladimir Yavachev, was a scientist, and his mother, Tsveta Dimitrova, born in Macedonia, was the secretary at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sofia. Professors from the Academy who visited his family observed Christo's artistic talent while he was still of a very young age.
Christo studied art at the Sofia Academy from 1953 to 1956, and went to Prague, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic) until 1957, when he left for West by bribing a railway official and stowing away with several other individuals onboard a train transporting medicine and medical supplies to Austria.
Christo quickly settled in Vienna, and enrolled at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. After only one semester there, he traveled to Geneva and moved to Paris in 1958. As a result of his flight, he lost his Bulgarian citizenship and became a stateless person. His life in Paris was characterized by financial hardship and social isolation, which was worsened by his difficulty learning the French language. He earned money by painting portraits, which he likened to prostitution and signed with his family name "Javachef" while his early works were signed "Christo".
Jeanne-Claude was born in Casablanca, Morocco where her French military father was stationed. Her mother, Precilda, was 17 when she married Jeanne-Claude's father, Major Leon Denat. Precilda and Leon Denat divorced shortly after Jeanne-Claude was born, and Precilda remarried three times. Jeanne-Claude earned a baccalaureate in Latin and philosophy in 1952 from the University of Tunis.
During World War II, Jeanne-Claude lived with her father's family while her mother fought in the French Resistance. In 1946, Precilda married the influential General Jacques de Guillebon. The family lived in Berne from 1948 to 1951 then in Tunisia from 1952 to 1957, when they returned to Paris.
She was described as "extroverted" and with natural organizational abilities. Her hair was dyed red and she smoked cigarettes, and tried to quit many times until her weight would balloon. She did not enjoy cooking. She took responsibility for overseeing work crews and for raising funds. She said she became an artist out of love for Christo (if he'd been a dentist, she said she'd have become a dentist).
Jeanne-Claude died in New York City on November 18, 2009, from complications due to a brain aneurysm. Her body was to be donated to science, one of her wishes.
Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg described The Gates as "one of the most exciting public art projects ever put on anywhere in the world - and it would never have happened without Jeanne-Claude." Jeanne-Claude said, "Our art has absolutely no purpose, except to be a work of art. We do not give messages." She also said, "Artists don't retire. They die. That's all. When they stop being able to create art, they die."
When she died, she and Christo were at work on Over the River, fabric panels over the Arkansas River in Colorado and begun in 1992, and The Mastaba, a stack of 410,000 oil barrels configured as a mastaba, a truncated rectangular pyramid, in the United Arab Emirates.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude met in October 1958, when he was commissioned to paint a portrait of her mother, Precilda de Guillebon. Initially, Christo was attracted to Jeanne-Claude's half-sister, Joyce. Jeanne-Claude was engaged to Philippe Planchon. Shortly before her wedding, Jeanne-Claude became pregnant by Christo. Although she married Planchon, Jeanne-Claude left him immediately after their honeymoon. Christo and Jeanne-Claude's son, Cyril, was born 11 May 1960. Jeanne-Claude's parents were displeased with the relationship, particularly because of Christo's refugee status, and temporarily estranged themselves from their daughter.
In 1961, Christo and Jeanne-Claude covered barrels at the port of Cologne, their first collaboration. In 1962, the couple tackled their first monumental project, Rideau de Fer (Iron Curtain). Without consent of authorities and as a statement against the Berlin Wall, they blocked off Rue Visconti, a small street near the River Seine, with oil barrels. Jeanne-Claude stalled approaching police, convincing them to allow the piece to stand for a few hours. Although he was simultaneously holding his first exhibition at a gallery, it was the Visconti project that made Christo and Jeanne-Claude known in Paris.
In February 1964, Christo and Jeanne-Claude arrived in New York City. After a brief return to Europe, they settled in the United States in September of that year. Although poor and lacking fluency in the English language, Christo displayed his work in several galleries, including the well-known Castelli Gallery in New York and Gallery Schmela in Dusseldorf, Germany. Christo began to create Store Fronts which he built to scale. Sale of the Store Fronts helped finance larger projects.
On all their projects since 1972 they worked exclusively with photographer Wolfgang Volz. At least five of their major projects were subjects of documentary films by Albert and David Maysles.
In 1968, Christo and Jeanne-Claude had the chance to participate at the Documenta 4 in Kassel. In addition to the sculpture, Corridor Storefronts, the couple wanted to build an air package with a volume of 5,600 m, which would be lifted by cranes and visible from a distance of 25 km. On 24 June 1968 their first attempt to fully inflate the air package failed, as the polyethylene skin tore as it was being raised. After two more attempts and repeated repairs, and using two of the largest cranes in Europe, the project became a reality on 3 August 1968. The package rose to its maximum height of 280 feet (85 m) tall for a total of 10 hours (from 4:00 am through 2:00 pm on 4 August), becoming the largest inflatable structure with no skeleton ever constructed. Of the $70,000 (USD) cost of this project, Christo and Jeanne-Claude had financed all but $3,000 (USD) from the sale of preparatory drawings, collages and a Store Front.
At the end of 1969 Jeanne-Claude and Christo wrapped the coast of Little Bay in Sydney, Australia with the aid of 130 workers who devoted 17,000 work hours. The project required 9,5600 m of synthetic fabric and 56 km of rope. After initial resistance from the authorities and the public, reactions were largely positive.
At the end of 1970 Christo and Jeanne-Claude began the preparations for the Valley Curtain project. A 400-meter long cloth was to be stretched across Rifle Gap, a valley in the Rocky Mountains near Rifle, Colorado. The project required 14,000 m of cloth to be hung on four steel cables, fastened with iron bars fixed in concrete on each slope, and 200 tons of concrete. The budget increased to $400,000 causing Christo and Jeanne-Claude additional problems with the financing. Finally enough works of art were sold to raise the money and, on 10 October 1971, the orange-coloured curtain was ready for hanging, but was torn to shreds by wind and rock. While a second curtain was being manufactured, Christo received a message from a Berlin art historian to wrap the Reichstag in response to the 1961 "Project for Wrapping a Public Building". On 10 August 1972 the second attempt to hang the cloth succeeded, but only 28 hours later it had to be taken down because of an approaching storm.
The project was shown in the documentary film, Christo's Valley Curtain by David and Albert Maysles, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short.
In 1973, after 17 stateless years, Christo became a United States citizen. In 1972, Christo and Jeanne-Claude began preparations for Running Fence: a fabric fence, made from steel posts and steel cables, running through the landscape and leading into the sea. The fence was to be 5.5 meters high and 40 kilometers long and constructed in Sonoma and Marin Counties, California. For the project, 59 families of ranchers needed to be convinced and the permission of the authorities had to be obtained, so Christo and Jeanne-Claude hired nine lawyers. At the end of 1973 Christo and Jeanne-Claude marked the path of the fence with wooden stakes. On 29 April 1976 the work finally began after a long struggle against bureaucracy. Approximately 200,000 m of nylon fabric, 2050 steel posts and 145 km of steel cable were needed. On 10 September 1976 the work was completed. However, Christo and Jeanne-Claude had to pay a $60,000 fine, because they lacked permission for the coastal region.
Wrapped Walk Ways:
In 1977, Christo and Jeanne-Claude were mostly paying bank loans and trying to save money. In addition, however, they continued to plan their future projects, like wrapping the Reichstag, the Pont-Neuf in Paris, as well as "Wrapped Walk Ways", a covering of footpaths in a Kansas City park. In November, Christo met his parents, seeing his mother for the first time in 20 years.
With "Wrapped Walk Ways" Christo and Jeanne-Claude covered 4.5 km of footpaths in Loose Park, a park in Kansas City, Missouri. Altogether it required 12,500 m of orange-yellow coloured shiny nylon fabric. Pedestrians enjoyed the artwork for two weeks in October. The cost of this project amounted to $130,000.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude planned a project based on Jeanne-Claude's idea to surround eleven islands in Miami's Biscayne Bay with 603,850 m of pink polypropylene floating fabric. It was completed on 4 May 1983 with the aid of 430 workers and could be admired for two weeks.
On May 7, 1983 the installation of Surrounded Islands was completed. In Biscayne Bay, between the city of Miami, North Miami, the Village of Miami Shores and Miami Beach, 11 of the islands situated in the area of Bakers Haulover Cut, Broad Causeway, 79th Street Causeway, Julia Tuttle Causeway, and Venetian Causeway were surrounded with 603,850 square meters (6.5 million square feet) of pink woven polypropylene fabric covering the surface of the water, floating and extending out 61 meters (200 ft) from each island into the Bay. The fabric was sewn into 79 patterns to follow the contours of the 11 islands.
For 2 weeks Surrounded Islands spreading over 11.3 kilometers (7 miles) was seen, approached and enjoyed by the public, from the causeways, the land, the water and the air. The luminous pink color of the shiny fabric was in harmony with the tropical vegetation of the uninhabited verdant island, the light of the Miami sky and the colors of the shallow waters of Biscayne Bay.
Since April 1981, attorneys Joseph Z. Fleming, Joseph W. Landers, marine biologist Dr. Anitra Thorhaug, ornithologists Dr. Oscar Owre and Meri Cummings, mammal expert Dr. Daniel Odell, marine engineer John Michel, 4 consulting engineers, and builder-contractor, Ted Dougherty of A & H Builders, Inc., had been working on the preparation of the Surrounded Islands. The marine and land crews picked up debris from the eleven islands, putting refuse in bags and carting it away after they had removed some forty tons of varied garbage: refrigerator doors, tires,kitchen sinks, mattresses and an abandoned boat.
Permits were obtained from the following governmental agencies: The Governor of Florida and the Cabinet; the Dade County Commission; the Department of Environmental Regulation; the City of Miami Commission; the City of North Miami; the Village of Miami Shores; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; the Dade County Department of Environmental Resources Management.
From November 1982 until April 1983, 6,500,000 square feet (604,000 m) of woven polypropylene fabric were sewn at the rented Hialeah factory, into 79 different patterns to follow the contours of the 11 islands. A flotation strip was sewn in each seam. At the Opa Locka Blimp Hangar, the sewn sections were accordion folded to ease the unfurling on the water.
The outer edge of the floating fabric was attached to a 30.5 centimeter (12 inch) diameter octagonal boom, in sections, of the same color as the fabric. The boom was connected to the radial anchor lines which extended from the anchors at the island to the 610 specially made anchors, spaced at 15.3 meter (50 ft) intervals, 76 meters (250 ft) beyond the perimeter of each island, driven into the limestone at the bottom of the Bay. Earth anchors were driven into the land, near the foot of the trees, to secure the inland edge of the fabric, covering the surface of the beach and disappearing under the vegetation.
The floating rafts of fabric and booms, varying from 3.7 to 6.7 meters (12 to 22 feet) in width and from 122 to 183 meters (400 to 600 feet) in length were towed through the Bay to each island. There were 11 islands, but on two occasions, two islands were surrounded together as one configuration.
As with Christo and Jeanne-Claude's previous art projects, Surrounded Islands was entirely financed by the artists through the sale by C.V.J. Corporation (Jeanne-Claude Christo-Javacheff, President) of the preparatory pastel and charcoal drawings, collages, lithographs and early works.
On May 4, 1983, out of a total work force of 430, the unfurling crew began to blossom the pink fabric. Surrounded Islands was tended day and night by 120 monitors in inflatable boats.
Surrounded Islands was a work of art which underlined the various elements and ways in which the people of Miami live, between land and water.
On 14 March 1984, Jeanne-Claude became a U.S. citizen; she held dual U.S. and French citizenship. In August the couple received permission to wrap the Pont-Neuf after nine years of negotiations with the mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac, and preparations for the project began. For the wrapping of the oldest bridge in Paris, 40,000 m of sand-colored polyamide fabric was needed. The wrapping began on 25 August 1985 and was completed on 22 September. In the next two weeks over three million people visited the project.
The Umbrellas - Japan-USA, 1984-91:
Christo and Jeanne-Claude prepared for their next project, "The Umbrellas". The plan was to have yellow umbrellas set up in California and blue umbrellas in Japan at the same time. In December 1990, after much preparation, the first steel bases for the umbrellas were installed. At the bases 80 cm long anchors were fastened to the ground to withstand tensions of 1,500 kgf (15 kN). In September 1991 the umbrellas were brought to their places by 2,000 workers. In California, some of the bases were transported to the site by helicopter. The final cost of the project totaled $26 US million. By 7 September, 1,340 blue umbrellas in Ibaraki and 1,760 yellow umbrellas at the Tejon Ranch in southern California had been set up; the exhibition opened on 9 October 1991. In total, 3 million people saw the umbrellas, each measuring 6 meters in height and 8.66 meters in diameter. The umbrellas became a huge tourist attraction, finding use as everything from picnic spots to wedding altars. Two people died: A woman, Lori Mathews, was killed when one of the umbrellas hit her because of a wind gust, and a man, Masaaki Nakamura, was electrocuted while removing umbrellas when he came under a high voltage power line.
After the project "The Umbrellas" Christo and Jeanne-Claude concerned themselves again, with wrapping the Reichstag in Berlin. With the support of the President of the Parliament, Rita Sussmuth, Christo and Jeanne-Claude worked to convince the elected Members of Parliament, going from office to office, writing explanatory letters to each of the 662 delegates and innumerable telephone calls and negotiations. On 25 February 1995 after a 70 minute debate at the Parliament and a Roll Call vote, the Bundestag allowed the project to go ahead.
More than 100,000 m of fireproof polypropylene fabric, covered by an aluminum layer, and 15 km of rope were needed. The wrapping began on 17 June 1995 and was finished on 24 June. The spectacle was seen by five million visitors before the unveiling began on 7 July.
Verhullte Baume (Wrapped Trees):
After 32 years, Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped 178 trees in Berower Park / Beyeler Foundation north-east of Basel between 13 November and 14 December 1998. To wrap the trees, the couple used 55,000 m of silver-grey shiny polyester fabric and 23 km of rope. A pattern had to be made for each individual tree and so the natural shape of the branches pushed the fabric outwards, creating individual shapes in the sky. The trees varied in height from 2 to 25 meters and in width from 1 to nearly 15 meters. As with their other projects, this was financed by the sale of original works. All materials used in this project were recycled when it was taken down.
Wrapped Snoopy House:
In 1978, Charles M. Schulz drew an episode of his comic strip Peanuts in which Snoopy's doghouse is wrapped in fabric by Christo. In response, Christo constructed a wrapped doghouse and presented it to the Charles M. Schulz Museum in 2003.
On 3 January 2005, work began on the installation of the couple's most protracted project, The Gates, in Central Park in New York City. The title is "The Gates, Central Park, New York, 1979-2005" in reference to the time that passed from their initial proposal until they were able to go ahead with it: only with the permission of the new mayor of New York, Michael R. Bloomberg, were they able to proceed. "The Gates" was open to the public from 12 February until 27 February 2005. A total of 7,503 gates made of saffron color fabric were placed on paths in Central Park. They were five meters high and had a combined length of 37 km. Bloomberg, a fan of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, presented them with the "Doris C. Freedman Award for Public Art" for the work of art. Christo and Jeanne-Claude often expressed satisfaction that their concept for their home town of over 30 years was finally realized.
The cost of the project was $21 million US dollars which was raised entirely by Christo and Jeanne-Claude selling studies, drawings, collages, works from the 1950s and 1960s. They do not accept any sponsorship, nor did the city of New York have to provide any money for the project. Christo and Jeanne-Claude donated all the money raised from the sale of souvenirs such as postcards, t-shirts and posters to "Nurture New York's Nature, Inc." While the engineering, manufacturing and set-up took over a year, about 750 paid employees erected the project in five days and then deployed the fabric of all the gates in half an hour. Around 600 more ("Gate-keepers") distributed 1 million free samples of the fabric to visitors. The uniformed Gate-keepers also provided information to visitors about the project, and were responsible for unrolling the gates that had rolled over their crossbars in the high wind. More workers uninstalled the project in one week, leaving almost no trace and shipping all the materials for recycling.
The artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude were referenced in an AT&T commercial that aired in 2010, which freed the telephone company from liability of trademark infringement by stating that they were not affiliated with the artists in any way. The commercial showed massive orange sheets rolled out in various places across the country (which resembled The Gates). The commercial was supposed to delineate the extent of AT&T's cellphone coverage.
Over The River:
Christo and Jeanne-Claude announced plans for a future project, entitled Over The River, to be constructed on the Arkansas River near Canon City, Colorado on the eastern slope of the Rocky mountains. Plans for the project call for horizontally suspending 6.7 miles (10.8 km) of reflective, translucent fabric panels high above the water, on steel cables anchored into the river's banks. Project plans call for its installation for two weeks during the summer of 2014, at the earliest, and for the river to remain open to recreation during the installation.
Reaction among area residents has been intense with supporters hoping for a tourist boom and opponents fearing that the project would ruin the visual appeal of the landscape and inflict damage on the river ecosystem. One local rafting guide compared the project to "hanging pornography in a church." The Bureau of Land Management is expected to approve or reject the project in February, 2011.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude's inspiration for "Over the River" came in 1985 as they were wrapping the Pont-Neuf and a fabric panel was being elevated over the Seine. The artists began a three-year search for appropriate locations in 1992, considering some eighty-nine river locations. They chose the Arkansas River because its banks were high enough that recreational rafters could enjoy the river at the same time.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude have already spent more than $6 million on environmental studies, design engineering, and wind-tunnel testing of fabrics. As with past projects, Over The River would be financed entirely by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, through the sale of Christo's preparatory drawings, collages, scale models, and early works of the 1950s/1960s. On July 16, 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management released its four-volume Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which reported many potentially serious types of adverse impact but also many proposed "mitigation" options.