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Christo Wrapped The World

Culture | March 5, 2022

They had the idea to wrap trees in the 1960s, but it took 30 years to realize their vision. Source: (Pinterest).

In a sense, Christo was both the individual and the team of Christo Vladimirov Javacheff and his wife Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon. Jeanne-Claude and Vladimirov, who were born on the same day in different countries (Christo in Bulgaria and Jeanne-Claude in Morocco), met in Paris in 1958; he was there painting a portrait of her mother, Précilda de Guillebon. The couple worked on their installations together, under his name at first in order to simplify their brand and establish their artistic reputation, then later working under “Christo and Jeanne-Claude.” As a team, they dreamed up the projects, and then Christo sketched their ideas and created preliminary works. In order to pay for the eventual installations, they sold the preparatory works. Once everything was ready to go, they hired assistants to wrap the objects which required wrapping. 

The Iron Curtain. Source: (wikiart).

Making A Statement

Christo and Jeanne-Claude had their first show in Cologne in 1961. This show was the first exhibit of the work they would come to be known for: wrapped items, oil barrels, and large-scale items. Then, in 1962, they created Iron Curtain using 240 oil barrels to block an alley for several hours as a response to the Berlin Wall

The Wrapped Coast. Source: (YouTube).

Moving To New York And Working On Really Big Projects

In 1964, they moved to New York City, where Christo started a four-year project, Store Fronts; these were wooden facades that looked like show windows. They also created Air Packages in the mid-1960s, which were inflated and wrapped research balloons. In 1969, they wrapped the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art while it was still open. The public criticized their work and the fire department ordered them to unwrap the museum, although they didn’t enforce this. They also created Wrapped Coast in 1969 wherein they wrapped part of Little Bay in Sydney, Australia. This project, which was one of the John Kaldor Public Art Projects, may have been the largest work of public art ever. To wrap the 1.5 miles of the shore with one million square feet of woven plastic agricultural material and hold it in place with 35 miles of propylene rope required 17,000 man-hours of labor over four weeks. One hundred twenty-five workers, some of whom were climbers, worked on the project. 

The Valley Curtain. Source: (Wikipedia).

Some Projects Didn't Work Out As Planned

The next year, they started work on several more projects: Valley Curtain in Colorado, Wrapped Walk Ways in both Tokyo and Holland and Wrapped Island in the South Pacific. Only one of these came to fruition: Valley Curtain, which was an orange curtain of fabric draped across Colorado State Highway 325. They had a failed attempt late in 1971, and then, in August 1972, with a new contractor, they managed to raise the fabric for 28 hours until the wind destroyed this project, their most expensive to date and the first which required them to use construction workers. 

Running Fence. Source: (Pinterest).

They Faced Some Challenges To Their Installations

In April 1976, they began construction on Running Fence. They had started preparing for the installation in 1972. It was a 24.5-mile fence of white nylon held by steel posts and cables. The fence across the landscape and into the ocean. Their preparations included gaining use of ranch land, which they paid for, and they also had to use deconstructed building materials. Christo also had to contend with court challenges and once the project was complete, it was on display for two weeks in September. Two years later, they completed Wrapped Walk Ways, although it was not where they originally planned; instead, it happened in Kansas City, Missouri’s Loose Park. 

Surrounded Islands. Source: (AnOther Magazine).

Pink Plastic Highlighted The Islands

On May 7, 1983, they completed a project in Miami’s Biscayne Bay, Surrounded Islands. For this project, they surrounded 11 islands with floating pink polypropylene fabric. The work, completed by 430 workers, could be seen for two weeks. As they worked on surrounding the islands, the workers wore pink long-sleeve shirts which had the words “Christo Surrounded Islands” written on the back in pale blue. 

Wrapped Reichstag. Source: (Wikiart).

Later Work

In August 1985, they completed The Pont Neuf Wrapped. The wrapping retained the shapes of the Pont Neuf while emphasizing its detail and proportions; over its two-week display, it attracted three million visitors.

Christo’s work continued in the 1990s, with The Umbrellas in Japan and California. The exhibit closed early when a woman was killed by an umbrella blown by the wind in California. During the deconstruction in Japan, a worker was killed as well. One of their other exhibits, Wrapped Reichstag, entered the planning stage in the 1970s. They lobbied for 24 years to get permission to wrap the building with silver fabric, fastened with blue rope. The Guardian later called the wrapping, which became symbolic of unified Germany, Christo’s “most spectacular achievement.” Another project which they began in 1979, The Gates, was also completed in 2005. The Gates involved the creation of 7,503 gates made of saffron-colored fabric placed on paths in Central Park. 

The Floating Piers. Source: (YouTube).

His Artwork Continued Until His Death

Jeanne-Claude died on November 18, 2009. Christo continued his work after that, completing The Floating Piers in 2016 and The London Mastaba in 2018. Christo died on May 30, 2020. His final work. L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, was finished posthumously. 

Tags: Christo | Jeanne-Claude

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Linda Speckhals

Writer

When she’s not out walking her dog, or taking in a baseball game, Linda loves learning about history, science, and philosophy. She will travel wherever the wind may blow, and happily loses herself in a book, whenever she can. At heart, she is a music loving tree-hugger.