Christo, the Bulgarian-born artist, best known for his monumental installations that wrapped some of the world’s most celebrated buildings and played with people’s perceptions of landscape and the outdoors, died on Sunday at his home in New York.
He was 84.
“Christo lived his life to the fullest, not only dreaming up what seemed impossible but realizing it,” the office of the artist, born Christo Yavacheff, said in a statement.
Christo escaped from then-communist Bulgaria via Prague, Vienna and Geneva in 1957. In Paris, he met Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon.
They were born on the same day, June 13, in the same year, 1935, and, according to him, “In the same moment” and would become partners in life and art until her death in 2009.
The couple won worldwide acclaim for ambitious and ephemeral works that they began in the 1960s and took years of painstaking preparation.
In 1985, they wrapped the Pont Neuf, Paris’s oldest bridge. A decade later, it was the Reichstag in Berlin – cocooned in shimmering silver and attracting millions of people in the two weeks the installation remained in place.
In 2005, they created, The Gates, an installation of thousands of saffron-coloured gateways winding through New York’s Central Park.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude in front of a model for their artwork, Wrapped Reichstag, during the opening of the exhibition in July 2009 [Raquel Manzanares/EPA]
“Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s artwork brought people together in shared experiences across the globe, and their work lives on in our hearts and memories,” the statement said.
To finance the ambitious projects and maintain their artistic freedom, the couple would sell their preparatory work, including collages and drawings.
“I like to be absolutely free, to be totally irrational with no justification for what I like to do,” he said. “I will not give up one centimetre of my freedom for anything.”
Christo continued to work after Jeanne-Claude’s death, creating, The Floating Piers, on Italy’s Lake Iseo in 2016; a project the duo had first conceived more than 40 years previously.
A three-kilometre (1.9-mile) undulating walkway across the northern lake, the installation of 200,000 floating yellow cubes was hugely popular creating paths for visitors to reach scattered islands and giving the impression of walking on water “or perhaps the back of a whale”, Christo said.
Two years later, The London Mastaba – a 20-metre-high (66-foot) sculpture of an ancient Egyptian tomb, made from 7,506 red, white and mauve barrels on a platform in a lake in London’s Hyde Park.
Arc de Triomphe
At the time of his death, Christo was working on a project to wrap the Arc de Triomphe in Paris in 25,000 square metres (269,100 square feet) of recyclable polypropylene fabric in silvery blue and 7,000 metres (23,000 feet) of red rope.
It will still go ahead.
“Christo and Jeanne-Claude have always made clear that their artworks in progress be continued after their deaths. Per Christo’s wishes, ‘L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped’ in Paris, France, is still on track for September 18 – October 3, 2021,” the statement said.
It will be accompanied by an exhibition at the city’s Pompidou Centre about the couple’s time in the city.
A statement sent to AFP by the Pompidou Centre on Sunday paid tribute to the artist as an “enchanter” who was “essential to the history of art of our time”.
“Christo was a great artist, capable of giving new depth to our every day,” said the Pompidou Centre’s president, Serge Lasvignes.
Bulgarian artist Christo walks, The Floating Piers, on Lake Iseo during the last day of the installation on July 3, 2016 [Filippo Venezia/EPA]
The centre’s director, Bernard Blistene, said they had worked “passionately” with Christo’s team to put the exhibition together in parallel with the Arc de Triomphe project.
“Let the exhibition that we will be opening on July 1 pay tribute to this exceptional body of work, bestriding all disciplines and so essential to the history of art of our time,” he added.
Sunday’s statement from Christo’s office concluded: “In a 1958 letter Christo wrote, ‘Beauty, science and art will always triumph’. We hold those words closely today.”