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Christo passes away at 84

Wrapping It Up

Christo passes away at 84

Christo in front of drawings of The Mastaba (Project for United Arab Emirates), a dream project conceived by the artist in 1977. If ever completed, it would involve stacking 410,000 barrels into a colorful pyramid. (Wolfgang Volz/Christo)

Bulgarian-born artist Christo Vladimirov Javacheff, who achieved fame for the massive public installations he completed with his late wife Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon, died yesterday, May 31, 2020, of natural causes at 84. The news was announced via the artist’s Twitter account.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude were both born on June 13, 1935, and after meeting for the first time in Paris in 1958, the pair collaborated from 1961 to Jean-Claude’s death via brain aneurysm in 2009 (though they practiced only under Christo’s name until 1994). The duo prepared their large-scale wrapping artworks years, sometimes decades, before anything was ever actually built; Christo’s The Mastaba (Project for United Arab Emirates), a passion project that would have bundled 410,000 colorful barrels into a massive trapezoid, was conceived of in 1977 and still has yet to be assembled.

A tall trapezoid made of red barrels
The London Mastaba was Christo’s first large-scale installation in the U.K. The nearly pointillist piece was intended to reference traditional Islamic architecture and similarly-shaped Egyptian tombs.  (Wolfgang Volz/Christo)

Planning such massive public projects would always take time, but Christo and Jeanne-Claude were always concerned about the environmental impact their pieces would have and took care to leave the sites of their work cleaner than they found it. Take 2018’s The London Mastaba at the Serpentine Gallery, for example; after floating the 65-foot-tall, 7,506-barrel-strong Mastaba on top of Serpentine Lake, great pains were taken to not only to recycle the piece but to remediate the lake afterward.

Regulations and funding were other challenges that hounded the artist regularly throughout his career. Christo, a self-described “educated Bulgarian Marxist who has learned to use capitalism for his art,” financed all of his projects independently through the sale of concept drawings, and patiently waited the decades it took for the duo’s work to ultimately win approval. The Gates, a triumphant series of 7,503, 16-foot-tall orange gates draped with waving flags that were woven over Central Park’s walking paths were ultimately well-received in Christo’s adopted city of New York, but erecting them took 14 years of financing and pushing back against NIMBY nay-sayers.

Drawing of the Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, Place de l’Etoile, Charles de Gaulle, Paris had been a dream project of Christo’s since 1962, and was supposed to have debuted in April 2020, but had been delayed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. (André Grossmann/Christo)

But that, thankfully, is what Christo will be remembered for—installing levity and a sense of wonder in public places. As the Twitter announcement of his death stated, Christo and Jeanne-Claude made it clear that they wanted their work to continue posthumously. The wrapping of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris in recyclable silver-blue polypropylene fabric and red rope, a reduction of a famous icon to pure form and mass, was a project Christo had dreamt of since 1962 and will finally be realized next year from September 18 through October 3.

AN will follow this announcement with a more in-depth obituary in the days to come.