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Christo Photo

Christo

Bulgarian-American Sculptor, Photographer, and Conceptual Artist

Movements and Styles: Nouveau Réalisme, Environmental Art

Born: June 13, 1935 - Gabrovo, Bulgaria

Christo Timeline

Quotes

"For me, the real world involves everything: risk, danger, beauty, energy."
Christo
"I am an artist, and I have to have courage... Do you know that I don't have any artworks that exist? They all go away when they're finished. Only the preparatory drawings, and collages are left, giving my works an almost legendary character. I think it takes much greater courage to create things to be one than to create things that will remain."
Christo
"If some of our works are symphonies, then wrapped walkways was chamber music."
Christo
"People think our work is monumental because it's art, but human beings do much bigger things: they build giant airports, highways for thousands of miles, much, much bigger than what we create."
Christo and Jeanne-Claude
"We borrow space and create gentle disturbances for a few days. We inherit everything that is inherent in the space to become part of the work of art. All our projects are like fabulous expeditions. The story of each project is unique. Our projects have no precedent. And so ... the hardest part of each project is to obtain the permits. Afterward, it's pleasure."
Christo and Jeanne-Claude

"The work of art is a scream of freedom."

Christo Signature

Synopsis

Christo's early education in Soviet Socialist Realism, and his experience fleeing his home as a refugee of political revolution, informed his career's numerous forays into real-world politics as a primary subject and source of his artmaking. His 35-year collaboration with the artist Jeanne-Claude, and the large-scale site-specific works they co-authored, stand out as his career's greatest achievements. Together, the duo created monumentally-scaled sculptures and installations which often utilized the technique of draping or wrapping large portions of existent landscapes, buildings, and industrial objects with specially engineered fabric. Christo and Jeanne-Claude made works that stand out as some of the most grandiose, ambitious, site-specific art works ever. While they often insisted that the aesthetic properties of their art constituted its primary value, reactions from audiences and critics worldwide have long recognized a broader commentary operating across their work, and themes ranging from environmental degradation, to the vexed history of the 20th century and the Cold War, to the perseverance of democratic and humanist ideals.

Key Ideas

Christo and Jeanne-Claude's interventions in the natural world and the built environment altered both the physical form and the visual experience of the sites, thereby allowing viewers to perceive and understand the locations with a new appreciation of their formal, energetic, and volumetric qualities.
The artists' choice to remain intermittently inside and outside the frameworks of legality lends much of their work a built-in aspect of dissent and resistance. It also expands upon and emboldens a long legacy of quasi-legality in art, where art exists in a realm somewhere between the "real" world and fantasy, and affords the art world with distinct privileges as well as restrictions.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude often worked outside the gallery system, refusing to negotiate sales of drawings and commissions through an art dealer. In this respect, they took a definitive stance on the political and economic infrastructure of the global art market, and set a precedent for artists working outside the system who still cultivated an international level of success.
Whereas Land Artists usually made a point of blurring the lines of distinction between the art work itself and its natural setting and/or materials, Christo and Jeanne-Claude's art relied on developing high contrast between the engineered, man-made elements and the site's organic characteristics. Their work therefore pushes the envelope of what constitutes site-specific, large-scale installation art, and expands the genre discourse to incorporate controversial themes of industrialization, bureaucratization, and late capitalism.

Biography

Christo Photo

Early Period

Christo was born in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, a small town in the Balkan Mountains. His given name was Christo Vladimirov Javacheff, and his parents were Ivan Vladimir Javacheff, a chemist and a businessman who ran a fabric factory, and Tzveta Dimitrova, a political activist and a secretary at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sofia, Bulgaria. Ivan and Tzveta were socially connected with artists and intellectuals around Gabrovo, and Christo grew up surrounded by progressive ideas and culture. Christo began creating art early on, inspired by his parents' bohemian social circle, and was encouraged by several professors from the Academy of Fine Arts who would frequent the family home's to visit his parents. Politics also shaped his early life, and as a young boy Christo witnessed his birth country's invasion by the Nazis, and later by the Soviets.

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Christo Biography Continues

Important Art by Christo

The below artworks are the most important by Christo - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Wall of Oil Barrels - Rideau de Fer (The Iron Curtain) (1961-1962)
Artwork Images

Wall of Oil Barrels - Rideau de Fer (The Iron Curtain) (1961-1962)

Artwork description & Analysis: Christo and Jeanne-Claude's first collaborations involved wrapping dozens of oil barrels with cloth and rope, and stacking them in layers across public spaces so as to partially or completely block access. Earlier iterations of this site-specific work on Rue Visconti in Paris included a version in the courtyard of Christo's studio, as well as 1961's Stacked Oil Barrels and Dockside Packages, both of which were installed for two weeks on the harbor in Cologne, Germany. Particularly in Wall of Oil Barrels, the artists expanded the scope and scale of the previous works, creating a larger and more impenetrable wall of both wrapped and unwrapped barrels that blockaded a section of a city street. Christo was propelled by the idea of spatially reconfiguring a specific outdoor location with a common, contextually misplaced object, a notion that would play a role in many of his future creations and collaborations with Jeanne-Claude.

The piece utilized 89 barrels, and measured 13.2 feet wide, 2.7 feet deep, and 13.7 feet tall. It took eight hours to assemble. An expression of the artists' views on the disruptive nature of the Cold War and the Berlin Wall, which was then in the process of being built, Wall of Oil Barrels commented on the politics of space, freedom, and mobility under increasingly conservative and divisive governmental policies throughout Europe. Since they installed it without permission, Parisian authorities demanded that the piece be dismantled, but Jeanne-Claude was able to persuade them to allow the work to remain in place for several hours. This monumental work and its brief celebrity as a public nuisance helped Christo and Jeanne-Claude gain early notoriety in Paris.

Oil barrels became an important medium for Christo in 1958. He had previously been utilizing smaller, everyday, affordable objects like beer cans, but the barrels initiated a significant shift towards larger works, while still adhering to a distinct type of sculptural form. Wall of Oil Barrels was Christo's first large scale work, and marked the beginning of the collaborative, massively scaled, site-specific works for which he and Jeanne-Claude would become famous.

- Rue Visconti, Paris

Wrapped Coast (1968-1969)
Artwork Images

Wrapped Coast (1968-1969)

Artwork description & Analysis: Using one million square feet of erosion-control synthetic fabric, 35 miles of polypropylene rope, 25,000 fasteners, threaded studs, and clips, Jeanne-Claude and Christo wrapped 1.5 miles of rocky coast off Little Bay in Sydney, Australia to create Wrapped Coast in the late 1960s. This method of wrapping was something that Christo had experimented with previously, using smaller objects, but this monumental effort became the largest single artwork ever created at the time, surpassing Mount Rushmore. It remained wrapped for ten weeks, beginning October 28, 1969.

The draping of the fabric over the coast helped to re-contextualize and de-familiarize a well-known natural setting, and revealed the essential form and shape of the coast as a discrete object in and of itself. Passersby experienced a shift in their commonplace perspective of the landscape by having limitations - both visual and physical - imposed upon the viewing process. This selective imposition also brought about new and unexpected revelations about the nature of the coastline, particularly its formal and structural qualities as a cohesive object with a distinct shape, substance, and volume.

- Little Bay, Sydney, Australia

Valley Curtain (1975)
Artwork Images

Valley Curtain (1975)

Artwork description & Analysis: In the Spring of 1970 Christo and Jeanne-Claude began work on Valley , a 200,200 square foot section of orange, woven nylon fabric that stretched across an entire Colorado valley. The gigantic, crescent-shaped fabric was suspended on a steel cable and anchored to two mountain tops, between Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs in the Hogback Mountain Range. It was tied down with 27 ropes, and spread across the valley at a maximum measurement of 1,250 feet wide and 365 feet high.

Valley Curtain was a tremendous feat of engineering and coordination that experienced significant and expensive setbacks. Christo and his team first attempted to install the curtain on October 9, 1971, but a gust of wind caught the fabric and it flew away, ripping on the surrounding rocks and construction equipment. On August 19, 1972 it was at last erected successfully, but it remained intact for only 28 hours, until a wind at over 60 miles per hour threatened to tear through it once more. Workers dismantled the piece shortly thereafter.

For the brief time that it was in place, the bright orange drape slung between the craggy mountains reinvigorated the valley's contours, highlighting its natural flow, rhythm, and volume. Like many of the duo's large-scale environmental works, it brought new perspective to a familiar landscape, and encouraged a refreshed appreciation of the natural world. The bold color of the fabric popped against the bright sky, the muted blue mountains in the distance, and the greenery covering the nearby hills. Few viewers were able to see it live in its short, 28-hour existence, which added to the work's sense of fragility, vulnerability, and urgency, while also stimulating an awareness of the emptiness that accompanied its eventual dismantling. The work was documented extensively in photographs: ultimately, the most prolific medium of earth works, these types of works which are purposely subjected to environmental change, impermanence, and decay.

- Rifle, Colorado

More Christo Artwork and Analysis:

The Umbrellas (1984-1991) Wrapped Reichstag (1971-1995) The Gates (1979-2005)


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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Christo
Interactive chart with Christo's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Marcel DuchampMarcel Duchamp
GiottoGiotto
Auguste RodinAuguste Rodin

Personal Contacts

Pierre RestanyPierre Restany
ArmanArman
Daniel SpoerriDaniel Spoerri
Jean TinguelyJean Tinguely
Yves KleinYves Klein

Movements

Nouveau RéalismeNouveau Réalisme
ConstructivismConstructivism
Land ArtLand Art
Environmental ArtEnvironmental Art

Influences on Artist
Christo
Christo
Years Worked: 1950s - Present
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Wolfgang VolzWolfgang Volz
Albert and David MayslesAlbert and David Maysles

Personal Contacts

Dorothy and Herbert VogelDorothy and Herbert Vogel

Movements

Land ArtLand Art
Public SculpturePublic Sculpture
Environmental ArtEnvironmental Art

Useful Resources on Christo

Videos

Books

Websites

Articles

More

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Christo amd Jeanne-Claude: An Authorized Biography Recomended resource

By Burt Chernow and Wolfgang Volz

Christo and Jeanne-Claude: A Biography

By Burt Chernow, and Wolfgang Volz

written by artist

The Gates: Project for Central Park, New York City

By Christo and Jeanne-Claude

More Interesting Books about Christo
ChristoandJeanneClaude.net Recomended resource

Official Artist Site

Gated Recomended resource

By Perter Schjeldahl
The New Yorker
2005

Christo's Wrapped Reichstag: Symbol for the New Germany Recomended resource

By Paul Goldberger
The New York Times

Various NY Times Articles on Christo's Work

Christo

By Charles Taylor
Salon
April 11, 2000

More Interesting Articles about Christo
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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Laura Fiesel

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Brynn Hatton

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Laura Fiesel
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Brynn Hatton
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