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Christo and Jeanne-Claude

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Christo and Jeanne-Claude are an artist duo known best for wrapping objects and buildings, as well as other types of environmental art . They are arguably the best-known practitioners of what is called installation art. Some of their famous works include the wrapping of the Reichstag in Berlin, Pont Neuf in Paris with white cloth and "Running Fence" (1976) a 24-mile-long display of fabric strung across Marin County and Sonoma County, California reaching to the Pacific Ocean. Their most recent project was 2005's The Gates, in New York City's Central Park .


The Artists


Christo Yavasheff (bulgarian Христо Явашев, born June 13, 1935 in Gabrovo, Bulgaria), better known simply as Christo is the primary artist and designer of the duo's projects. He had his first drawing and painting lessons at the age of six and his talents for art were soon discovered by Artists of the Academy that were visiting his family. He had a foible for theatre and was staging Shakespeare plays in his youth. In 1953 he was admitted to the Academy of fine Arts, but due to the strict socialist curriculum imposed by the ruling communist party, he was disappointed by the education he received.

Christo decided to leave Bulgaria in 1957, and went to Vienna, where he studied, but left after half a year to go to Geneva, after which he stayed a short time in Paris. Due to his flight he lost his citizenship, becoming stateless.

In Paris, Christo visited many exhibitions and was inspired by Joan Miro, Nicholas de Stael and mostly by Jean Dubuffet. In January 1958 he made his first wrapping art. He wrapped an empty paint-tin with acrylic soaked canvas, coloured it with glue, sand and car paint. Christo said that he didn't know why he did it in the first place. In some ways it showed his own state of being: the feeling of cultural isolation, sadness and poverty. Christo is fascinated with Paris and is enjoying his freedom. He rents a small atelier and continues his work at wrapping things. He still paints portraits to earn money but calls it to be his way of prostitution. Christo meets the German entrepreneur Dieter Rosenkranz that buys some of his wrappings and is introduced to other artist as Yves Klein or the Art-historic Pierre Restany.


Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon (also born on June 13, 1935 but in Casablanca) is Christo's wife, and, similarly to her husband, is known simply as Jeanne-Claude. Precilda and Major Lein Denat, her parents divorced soon after her birth and she grew up in a dysfunctional family. Her mother married three times after that and joined the French Resistance during WWII. Jeanne-Claude was living with her father's family during that time but was neglected. After the war she returned to her mother and received a good education. In 1946 her mother married for a fourth time, to the influential General Jaques de Guillebin. Thus, Jeanne-Claude lived in a privileged community and was admired by men but after her graduation she depended on others, and had no goals in life.

The Couple

In October 1958, Christo has to paint a portrait of Perilda de Guillebon nad he meets Jeanne-Claude for the first time. Jeanne-Claude is not impressed by the artist but her mother likes the portraits and orders more. Soon they meet each other more often and he teaches her Art History lessons where she improves his French. Christo still continues at his Wrappings and is now inspired by Jackson Pollock and Jean Tinguely. Christo falls in love for Jeanne-Claude half sister Joyce and Jeanne-Claude engages with her friend Philippe Planchon. One month after the wedding, Christo is splitting with Joyce and turns to Jeanne-Claude, but her wedding with Phillipe cannot be cancelled. After their honeymoon, Jeanne-Claude being pregnant by Chrito is leaving her husband to live with him.

In 1959 Christo is spending more of his time for his wrapping art, but he changed his style. He leaves the material as it is and no longer coats it with glue and sand. In 1960 he leaves out any colouring and finishes his Inventory Series. Christos art is exciting, similar to the unwrapping at Christmas. His presents are a "revelation through concealing" (David Bourdon). Where other artist hope for immortality, Christo emphasizes the finite with his works. The love between Christo and Jeanne-Claude is still secret and on May 11, 1960 there son Cyril is born. When Jeanne-Claudes parents learn of the love-affair, they are outraged and deny any further financial support, so the couple has to live in poverty, which was nothing new to Christo.

In 1961, Christo is covering Barrels at the port of Cologne, his first large display. The Jeanne-Claude's parents start to reconcile with their daughter and are showing interest in ether grand-child. In 1962, the couple starts their first monumental project "Rideau de Fer". The Rue Visconti, a street leading to the river Seine, being blocked by oil-barrels. The Berlin Wall was his inspiration, but he had the viewer decide over his interpretation. Despite problems with the authorities, the couple started to pile the barels,barrel without consent of the city, on June 27. Jeanne-Claude intercepted the Police and convinced them, that the barrels would only stay there for a couple of hours. especially motorists and neighbours are angry at the "art display", but how should a city feel that is cut in half. During the Visconti Project, Christo had is first own exhibition at a gallery, where he could even sell some of his wrapped objects, and, due to the barrels he got known in Paris and the city talked about him. On November 28, 1962 Christo marries Jeanne-Claude, they are still poor, but they saved money to go to New York and follow the cultural center that moved there.

The two are united in work as well, with Jeanne-Claude being Christo's partner in all undertakings. Jeanne-Claude traditionally serves as the PR agent of the two, and is considerably more outspoken than her husband. She has described their relationship as having a "good cop / bad cop" dynamic.

A new Continent

In February 1964 Christo and Jeanne-Claude reach New York and after a short return to Europe, they finally settle in America in September. Christo is presenting his art in some famous Galleries (Gallery Castelli, New York; Gallery Schmela, Dsseldorf, Germany). The Couple has some difficulties to call it a home. There is the language barrier, they are overdebted and homeless. But they start anew and their next big project is an 1,200 m big package Christo builds with the help of enthusiastic students. In 1968 the couple ends their cooperation with the Gallery Castelli to be independent.

Their Works

Though their artwork is visually striking and often controversial due to its size and scale, the artists have repeatedly denied that their projects contain any deeper meaning. The purpose of their art is intended to simply make the world a "more beautiful place" or offer a new way of looking at an old landscape.

Documenta 4

In 1968, Christo and Jeanne-Claude have the chance to participate at the Documenta 4 in Kassel. The couple plans to build a Package with a volume of 5.600 m, which is to e lifted by cranes. They hope that it can be seeneven at a distance of 25km. The first attempts fail however, for the skin from polyethylene frequently bursts when being raised. After repeated repairs and using the two largest cranes of Europe, the project can be carried out. The package stands for two months and costs Christo and Jeanne-Claude 70,000 US$, money they raised with much trouble.

Wrapped Coast

At the end of 1969 Jeanne Claude and Christo veil a coast in Australia. With the help of 130 aids and taking 17,000 working hours total, 9,300 m synthetic and 56 km rope are used. After initial resistances of the authorities and the public the reactions are to a large extent positive after the completion of the project.

Valley Curtain

At the end of 1970 Christo and Jeanne-Claude begin with the preparations for the project "Valley Curtain". A cloth with a length of 400 m is to become strained over a valley of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. There are some problems to gain the permission for the project due to environmentalists protest and the financing of the planned budget of around 230,000 dollar. 14,000 m of cloth had to be hung up at a steel cable, which was fastened with iron staffs at each peak of the slopes. 200 tons of concrete had to be carried in buckets on each slope. The budget increased to 400,000 dollar and the Christos had once again problems with the financing. They finally sold enough works of art, in order to raise the money. On October 10, 1971 the orange colored curtain was to be hung up. But the attempt failed, and the curtain was torn by the wind and rock. Full of disappointment, the couple decided to manufacture a new curtain and try it again. During that time, Christo received a postcard by an Berlin architect with the request to veil the Reichstag. Christo likes the idea and starts to work on it. On August 10, 1972 the second attempt succeeds an the cloth is put up, but only 28 hours later it is destroyed by the wind again. Christo and Jeanne Claude are nevertheless content with their achievement.

Running Fence

In 1973, after 17 years without a citizenship, Christo became a citizen of the U.S. In addition the preparations for "Running Fence" began, a veiled fence, which is made of steel posts and steel cables, that runs through the landscape and flows into the sea. The fence is to be 5.5 m high and 40 km long. For the project, agricultural workers must be convinced and the permission of the authorities be caught up, so Christo and Jeanne-Claude engage nine lawyers. At the end of of 1974 Christo marks the path of the fence with woodden stakes. and on 29 April 1976 the work begins after a long fight against bureaucracy. 200,000 m nylon, 2050 stahlposts and 145 km steelcable are needed. On 10 September the work is finished. Christo and Jeanne Claude had to pay a 60,000 US dollar fine, because they forgot a permission for the coastal region.

Wrapped Walk Ways

Untill 1977, Christo and Jeanne Claude where mostly paying back the credits and saving money. In addition they planed future projects, like veiling the Reichstag, the Pont Neuf in Paris, as well as "Wrapped Walk Ways", a veiling of footpaths in a park. In November Christo meets his parents and with it his mother for the first time in 20 years. With "Wrapped Wak Ways" Christo and Jeanne-Claude veil 4.5 km of footpaths in a park in Kansas-City . Altogether it takes 12,500 m safran coloured shiny nylon fabric. The pedestrians enjoy the two weeks of art in October. The costs amount to 130,000 dollar. From 1979 to 1981 the couple is occupied with some projects, of which many cannot be realized, among other things the Mastaba of Abu Dhabi, UAE, a project where oil barrels had to be stacked to a height of 150 m.

Surrounded Islands

The Christos plan a project of Jeanne-Claude to outline eleven islands in Miami by pink polypropylene. It takes 603,850 m polypropylene, which is fastened with anchors. The work of art is finished on May 7, 1983 by 500 aids and could be admired for two weeks.

Pont Neuf

On March 14, 1984 Jeanne-Claude receives the US-American nationality but however, she kept her French passport. In August the couple receives the permission for veiling the Pont Neuf after nine years of negotiations with the mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac and the preparations for the project begin. For veiling the oldest bridge in Paris 40,000 m sand-clored Polyamid fabric are needed. The veiling begins on August 25, 1985 and is finisched on September 22. In the next two weeks over three million vistit the project.


In 1986 Christo and Jeanne-Claude prepare for the project "Umbrellas". Simultaniously, yellow and blue umbrellas are to be set up in California and Japan.

In December 1990, after a long preparation time the first bases for the screens are laid. At the bases 80 cm long anchors are fastened to withestand traction powers of 1.500 kg. In order to not to destroy the countryside, the bases are transported with helicopters. The costs of the project amount to 26 million dollar. In September 1991 the screens are brought to their places by 1,880 aids.

On September 7, 1,340 blue screens in Ibraki and 1,760 yellow screens in California are set up and opened on September 9. In total three million come to see the screens, measuring 6 m in height and 8.66 m in diameter. During the project two visitors die. A woman was killed by a screen loosende by a gust of wind and a man building the sreens came in contact with a high voltage power line.

The Reichstag

After the project "Umbrellas" Christo and Jeanne-Claude concerned themselves with veiling the Reichstag in Berlin. With the support of the parliamentary speaker, Rita Suessmuth, the Christos convinced the Members of Parliament, going from office to office and writing explanatory letters to each of the 662 delegates. In addition they accomplish innumerable telephone calls and negotiations. On 25 February the Bundestag is allowing the project after lengthy discussions.

Over 100.000 m fireproof polypropylene fabric, covered by an aluminum layer, and 15 km of rope are needed. Veiling begins on 17 June 1995 and is finished on 24 June. The spectacl si seen by five million vistors before the unveiling begins on July 7.

The Gates

See The Gates for details.
On January 3, 2005, work began on the installation of the couple's most protracted project, The Gates, in Central Park in New York City. They have also referred to it as "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. "The Gates" was opened to the public on February 12 and is scheduled to run through February 27. The reception of this art is mixed, which is not unusual for their projects.

Annie Leibowitz made a witty portrait of Christo completely wrapped and bundled, much like his own artwork.

See also

External links

Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04