We make beautiful things, unbelievably useless, totally unnecessary – Christo

Christo, 2016

Artist Christo Vladimirov Javacheff, known as Christo, passed away on May 31, 2020, at his home in New York City. He was 84 years old. Christo died of natural causes, according to the press release posted on his website.

Christo spent most of his adult life creating works that defied description. They were at once art, performance and grand social events.

Christo Vladimirov Javacheff was born n Gabrovo, Bulgaria on June 13, 1935. His father was a chemist who ran a factory that made fabrics. His mother was a political activist. Oppressive politics in eastern Europe in 1956 led Christo to bribe a railway worker to let him hide on a train taking medicine to Austria. He went to Vienna and then to Paris, where he lived the life of a struggling artist, painting portraits on the street.

His luck changed when a passer-by invited him to her chateau to paint her portrait. Her daughter, Jean-Claude Denat de Guillebon, was at home. She became Christo’s wife, muse and partner in his projects.

Their collaborations lasted for more than fifty years.

The couple did some ‘wrapped’ projects in Paris, before moving to New York in 1964 where he created an exhibit, a storefront with a wrapped air conditioner, at the Castelli Gallery.

Christo had bigger plans. He wanted to wrap entire buildings.

Christo
Wrapped Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1969
National Gallery of Art Library

In 1969 he got permission to wrap the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and, later that year, wrapped a million square feet of coastline near Sydney, Australia.

Christo’s projects became bigger and bolder. Each began with preliminary drawings, collages and lithographs, which were sold to finance each venture. He and Jean-Claude payed for each project themselves and didn’t accept any outside help with finances.

Christo
Surrounded Islands, Biscayne Bay, 1983

In 1983, Christo surrounded eleven islands in Biscayne Bay with woven polypropylene fabric. Like all of his projects, he had to get through government bureaucracy and public objections to get approval. The results, like most of his projects, was an installation that brought joy and wonder to a city that had been facing race riots, a refugee crises, violent crime, drug trafficking and a sinking economy.

Jean Claude died in 2009, at age 74. The couple are survived by their son, Cyril Christo, a wildlife photographer.

The Works of Christo at VFA

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References:
Waldemar Januszczak. Warhol by Blake Gopnik review — the truth about the pop art pioneer. The Sunday Times. February 16, 2020.
Joan Acocella. Untangling Andy Warhol. The New Yorker. June 1, 2020.
Simon Elmes. The secrets of Andy Warhol’s time capsules. BBC News. September 10, 2014.