‘Wrapped Reichstag’ artist Christo dies, aged 84

His last monumental work was to be the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. In the fall of 2020, Christo was to cover the famous landmark with 25,000 square meters (270,000 square feet) of silver blue recyclable polypropylene fabric, tied with 7,000 meters of red rope.

Christo however didn’t get to witness the unveiling of his ambitious installation. On May 31, the world famous Bulgarian-American artist died of natural causes at his home in New York City.

“Christo lived his life to the fullest, not only dreaming up what seemed impossible but realising it,” said a statement from his office.

Wrapping to awake curiosity

Shiny fabrics that covered buildings, objects or entire areas were his trademark. Together with his wife Jeanne-Claude, who died in 2009, he wrapped the Reichstag in Berlin, trees in Switzerland or paths in Kansas City. And sometimes he just covered up air in big “air packages.”

Christo's big 'air packages' (picture-alliance/dpa)

Christo’s big ‘air packages’

Christo and Jeanne Claude planned together large-scale projects such as the oversized Valley Curtain installed between two Colorado mountain slopes in the early 1970s.

Other spectacular works include the pink Surrounded Islands in Florida and the Pont-Neuf Wrapped bridge installation in Paris in the 1980s. In 1995, the artist couple wrapped the German Reichstag in silver glittering fabric.

In 2016, some 1.3 million visitors walked on his Floating Piers across Lake Iseo. “I love real things, real wind, real dryness, real wet, real fear and real joy,” Christo told a group of Italian students in the documentary Walking on Water.

Floating Piers across Lake Iseo (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler)

Christo’s Floating Piers across Lake Iseo

Christo started wrapping or covering items such as cans, bottles and boxes early on in his artistic career. Yet he always rejected being defined as a “packaging artist.”

He left the interpretation of his art to others, but his basic approach was to arouse the curiosity of viewers by concealing objects, without ever changing them beyond recognition — a process the artist’s biographer, David Bourdon, described as “revealing by hiding.”

Famous artist couple: Christo Jeanne-Claude

Christo Vladimiroff Javacheff was born in Bulgaria on June 13, 1935. In the 1950s he studied painting, sculpture and architecture in Sofia. In 1956, he fled the communist country across the Czechoslovak border.

In Paris at the beginning of the 1960s, he joined a group of artists known as the “Nouveaux Réalistes” — the new realists — who, among other things, integrated real-life objects into art by transforming them.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude (picture-alliance/dpa/F. Gentsch)

Christo and Jeanne-Claude in 2006

To earn money, Christo also painted portraits. While working for a general, he met his daughter, Jeanne-Claude, who was born on the same day as he was. Jeanne-Claude was first seduced by Christo’s charm; her enthusiasm for his art came later. She contributed to his artistic talent through her organizational skills.

Relations with Germany

Wolfgang Volz became the couple’s official photographer in 1972. “Although Christo had a worldwide reputation, I never worked ‘for’ the two of them, but ‘with’ them as equal partners,” Volz once told DW. That’s why their relationship lasted so long, even though Christo could also be difficult, having a reputation for being short-tempered and stubborn when it came to realizing the detailed concepts of his works exactly according to his plans.

Over time, his art projects became increasingly ambitious. “The ‘working family’ grew with the size of the projects,” said Volz on the occasion of Christo’s 80th birthday. “Engineers, professional climbers and other specialists were needed.”

Christo's veiling of the Reichstag (picture-alliance/dpa/Kneffel)

The veiling of the Reichstag in 1995 was one of Christo’s most ambitious projects

Christo’s panels of fabrics were made in Germany, where he also realized one of his most ambitious projects, the veiling of the Berlin Reichstag in 1995.

Within two weeks, five million visitors had admired the impressive sparkling Wrapped Reichstag. Christo had been waiting for over 20 years to realize this project.

Freedom as a driving artistic force

As a representative of so-called Environmental or Land Art, Christo, together with Jeanne-Claude, undertook many spectacular wrapping and design campaigns for buildings, parks and entire areas.

In the 1960s, a time of social upheaval, Land Art had a political dimension. Geographical spaces were transformed into works of art that could not be owned — a form of protest against property and the bourgeoisie.

One of the artists' most spectacular installations, 'Umbrellas,' from the early 70s (Getty Images/Gamma-Rapho/K. Kaku)

One of the artists’ most spectacular installations, ‘Umbrellas,’ from the early 70s

Christo remained true to this ideal until the end. His large-scale installations were only visible for a short period, but they were open to the public and free of charge for everyone. “The fact that they disappear is part of the aesthetic concept. They are deeply rooted in freedom, because freedom is an enemy of property — while property is linked to durability,” said Christo as he worked on the Wrapped Reichstag in Berlin.

Freedom has always been a central concept for the former refugee from Bulgaria. In order to remain independent, he financed his projects from the sale of sketches and merchandise related to his works.

An artist with a political stance

Christo’s socio-critical ambitions became artistic happenings that fascinated the public. Jeanne-Claude often described their work this way: “We create temporary works of art of joy and beauty.”

Christo and Jeanne-Claude working on their project 'Over the River' (picture alliance/dpa/J.Büttner)

Christo and Jeanne-Claude working on their project ‘Over the River’

But all while promoting beauty and joy, Christo remained political. He gave up his Over the River project in Colorado, which he had been developing for 20 years, in protest against US President Donald Trump in 2017. “The US government is our landlord here,” Christo told The New York Times. “It owns the country. I cannot do a project that benefits this landlord.”

Oil barrels for a grave

Christo not only covered buildings and landscapes; oil barrels were another recurring material in his art. In 1962, he blocked the Rue Visconti in Paris with a wall made of 441 oil barrels. He called the work The Iron Curtain, created in protest against the East German regime and the construction of the Berlin Wall.

The Mastaba in Hyde Park (picture-alliance/empics/V. The Mastaba)

The Mastaba in Hyde Park

In 1977, Christo and Jeanne-Claude designed The Mastaba, inspired by Ancient Egyptian tombs. They aimed to build a colorful pyramid without a tip made of 410,000 oil barrels in the United Arab Emirates desert near Abu Dhabi.

Christo realized smaller versions of this pyramid, most recently a floating Mastaba of 7,506 oil barrels in London’s Hyde Park in 2018. The Abu Dhabi Mastaba in the desert, which would have been the world’s largest sculpture and his only large-scale permanent installation, remained one of his longstanding unfulfilled dreams.

  • Christo's proposed wrapping of the Arc de Triomphe (AFP/Christo and Jeanne-Claude - 2018 Christo/Andre Grossmann )

    Christo and his large-scale artworks

    Wrapping the Arc de Triomphe (2020)

    The “Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped” was announced as the last large-scale project completed by Christo during his lifetime. The Parisian landmark at the end of the Champs Elysees was to be covered in September 2020 with a silvery-blue recyclable fabric, tied by a red rope. Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude had developed the concept for this installation back in 1962.

  • Christo and Jeanne-Claude (picture alliance/KEYSTONE)

    Christo and his large-scale artworks

    Christo and Jeanne-Claude (1997)

    Christo Vladimirov Javacheff was born in Bulgaria on June 13, 1935. After studying art in Sofia, he fled to the West. In Paris he met his future wife, Jeanne-Claude, with whom he initiated spectacular art projects in the late 1960s. Christo took care of the art, Jeanne-Claude the organization.

  • Christo documenta IV (cc-by-3.0/Dr. Ronald Kunze)

    Christo and his large-scale artworks

    Packaging air (1968)

    Christo developed his first elaborate installations in the 1960s, wrapping everyday objects such as chairs, magazines and oil drums. Later he created “Air Packages” such as this 5,600-cubic-meter installation at the Documenta 4 art fair in Kassel in 1968, which earned him worldwide recognition.

  • Christo Valley Curtain (picture alliance/Everett Collection)

    Christo and his large-scale artworks

    Valley Curtain (1972)

    In the 1970s, projects by Christo and Jeanne-Claude grew more elaborate and colorful. To preserve their artistic freedom, the couple financed the installations by selling drawings, photographs and models of their works. In this spectacular creation from 1972, a 400 meter (1,310 ft.)-long cloth was stretched across Rifle Gap, a valley in Colorado.

  • Christo Wrapped Pont Neuf (picture-alliance/dpa)

    Christo and his large-scale artworks

    A different look at things (1985)

    Christo and Jeanne-Claude never concealed objects and buildings to the point that they could no longer be recognized. The packaging was meant to stimulate the viewer’s imagination. In 1985, they wrapped the Pont Neuf in Paris. Depending on the weather, the fabric would glitter differently — allowing the bridge to literally appear in a different light.

  • Japan Kunst Christo and Jeanne-Claude Umbrellas Projekt (Getty Images/Gamma-Rapho/K. Kaku)

    Christo and his large-scale artworks

    Art of superlatives

    In the 1990s, the art interventions of Christo and Jeanne-Claude became increasingly gigantic and risky. A worker died during the installation of one of the 3,000 umbrellas set up in both Japan and California for the project “The Umbrellas.” Afterwards, Christo hired only professional climbers and engineers. He also commissioned German companies to manufacture the huge fabrics for his art.

  • Christo and Jeanne-Claude's veiled Reichstag (picture-alliance/dpa/Kneffel)

    Christo and his large-scale artworks

    The ‘Wrapped Reichstag’: a happening (1995)

    The journey from the initial idea to the completion of an artwork can be lengthy. It took Christo and Jeanne-Claude 23 years to bring about their project “Wrapped Reichstag.” The spectacular show finally took place in June 1995 when they wrapped the seat of the German parliament with 100,000 square meters (1,076,000 square feet) of silver fabric. Within 16 days, 5 million visitors came to see it.

  • Big Air Package - Christo in Oberhausen (Wolfgang Volz)

    Christo and his large-scale artworks

    Barrels in the Wall (1999)

    Christo started working with oil drums back in the 1960s. In 1962 he blocked a Parisian street with stacked barrels. The barricade, titled “Iron Curtain,” was created in protest of the construction of the Berlin Wall. He referred to the division again in his 1999 installation “The Wall,” a 26-meter-high wall made of 13,000 oil barrels set up in the Gasometer, an industrial space in Oberhausen.

  • Christo The Gates (picture-alliance/Schroewig/Graylock)

    Christo and his large-scale artworks

    Land Art project ‘The Gates’ (2005)

    Christo and Jeanne-Claude not only covered objects and structures but also designed landscapes and parks, such as here in 2005 with “The Gates” in New York’s Central Park. Christo and Jeanne-Claude planned the gates with the blowing fabrics in 1980, but the approval of the project took even longer than the “Wrapped Reichstag.” Environmental concerns were the main issue.

  • Big Air Package - Christo in Oberhausen (Wolfgang Volz)

    Christo and his large-scale artworks

    A walkable air package (2013)

    Christo’s wife Jeanne-Claude died in 2009, and it took a few years for the artist to return to his projects. “Big Air Package” from 2013 was the first project he designed alone. The 90-meter-high, air-filled textile package was set up in the Oberhausen Gasometer. Visitors could walk inside the huge sculpture — a fascinating spatial experience.

  • The Floating Piers Christo (Getty images/F.Monteforte)

    Christo and his large-scale artworks

    Walking on water: ‘Floating Piers’ (2016)

    With “Floating Piers,” Christo fulfilled a longtime dream: to walk on water. Over 1.2 million visitors came to walk the three-kilometer stretch of pontoons on Lake Iseo in Italy. Like all of his projects, Christo financed the roughly €13 million ($14 million) work by selling sketches and photos, allowing him to remain free and independent of sponsors.

  • Christo and The London Mastaba (Reuters/S. Dawson)

    Christo and his large-scale artworks

    ‘The Mastaba’ in London (2018)

    Like the air packages, variations on the idea of the mastaba regularly appeared in Christo’s works. The pyramid, modeled after an Ancient Egyptian tomb, was a temporary installation in London’s Hyde Park in 2018. The 7,506 oil barrels stacked on a floating platform were Christo’s first major outdoor project in the UK.

  • Christo and Jeannne-Claude walking along a road in the UAE (Christo and Jeanne-Claude/W. Volz)

    Christo and his large-scale artworks

    A monument to the artist couple

    The Mastaba in London was a foretaste of the great mastaba that Christo and Jeanne-Claude had planned for Abu Dhabi. The gigantic pyramid of 410,000 oil barrels was to be the artist couple’s first major permanent project. They often visited their desired location in the desert of the United Arab Emirates. “The Mastaba,” featured on Christo’s homepage, remained a dream.

    Author: Gaby Reucher


Article source: https://www.dw.com/en/wrapped-reichstag-artist-christo-dies-aged-84/a-53645022?maca=en-rss-en-all-1573-rdf