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Christo (1935 - 2020)
Running Fence (Project for Sonoma County and Marin County, State of California)Request Viewing
Collage with fabric, wax crayon, pencil, charcoal with engineering drawing and tape on card
71 x 56 cm (28 x 22 inches)
Signed and dated lower right Christo 1974 and titled lower left
Christo Javacheff was born in 1935 in Gabrova in Communist Bulgaria. Dropping his surname, Christo studied at the Fine Arts Academy in Sofia (1953–56) before defecting to the West, via Prague, in 1957. That year, he spent one semester at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna and moved to Paris in 1958 where he met his future wife Moroccan-born Jeanne-Claude de Guillebon (d. 2009) and artistic collaborator.
Indebted to Vladimir Tatlin's Constructivist edict "real materials in real space," Christo's first artworks, dating from 1958, consist of appropriated everyday objects such as bottles, cans, furniture, and oil drums wrapped in canvas, bundled in twine, and occasionally overlaid with automobile paint. His first solo exhibition, at Galerie Haro Lauhus in Cologne in June 1961, included his inaugural collaboration with Jeanne-Claude (though she would not publicly acknowledge her role in their creations until 1994) Dockside Packages a collection of draped oil barrels and rolls of industrial paper arranged outside the gallery along a dock. That same year, the couple made their first attempt at exploring their aesthetic vocabulary on a monumental scale with Project for a Wrapped Public Building, in which they proposed shrouding an unspecified parliamentary edifice, the quintessential symbol of public architecture, in fabric tied down with metal cables. Never realized, the project exists in the form of a photographic collage with an explanatory text by the artists.
Throughout the 1960s, Christo and Jeanne-Claude outlined proposals for similar projects, often involving iconic buildings, like the École Militaire station of the Paris Métro (1961). They saw their dreams come to fruition in the summer of 1968, when they received permission to carry out three of their undertakings: Wrapped Fountain and Wrapped Medieval Tower (both at Spoleto in Italy) and Wrapped Kunsthalle (at Bern in Switzerland). The following year, they cloaked both the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and a mile-long section of the Australian coastline at Little Bay, north of Sydney. Covered with vast quantities of light-coloured fabric, battened down using elaborate systems of cables, ropes, and knots, these architectural and natural forms werede-familiarised, transformed into ghostly presences that momentarily disrupted their surroundings.
Beginning in 1970, the artists executed numerous other projects, all of which became icons of environmental art: Valley Curtain in Colorado (1970–72) a curtain of orange nylon suspended across a valley; Running Fence in California (1972–76) more than twenty-four miles of white nylon fabric snaking across the countryside; Surrounded Islands in Florida (1980–83) around six and a half million square feet of bright pink fabric floating around eleven islands; The Pont Neuf Wrapped in Paris, (1975–85) honey-hued fabric shrouding the city’s oldest bridge; The Umbrellas in Japan and USA (1984–91) a scattering of 3,100 blue and yellow umbrellas in a valley in California and Japan; Wrapped Reichstag in Berlin (1971–95) the celebrated German government building swathed in silver fabric; and The Gates in New York City’s Central Park (1979–2005) more than 7,500 metal frames fitted with saffron fabric panels and arranged along some twenty-three miles of walkway. Due to the staggering cost and increasing complexity of these ventures, in terms of technical know-how as well as the administrative and environmental hurdles the artists were obligated to surmount, realization often took years, even decades.
In his solo work, Christo continues to conceive projects, some existing on paper only, in which found objects—from magazines, newspapers, and street signs, to nude female models, telephones, computers, and automobiles—are wrapped in fabric or plastic and then twined. These assemblages embody many of the themes Christo and Jeanne-Claude explored in their artistic partnership, among them the opposition between the familiar and the uncanny, the veiled and the exposed, the built and the natural environments, utility and futility, permanence and ephemerality.
Major exhibitions of the artists' work have been organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston (1979), Museum Ludwig in Cologne (1981), Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art (1990), Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin (2001), and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (2004). Jeanne-Claude died in 2009; Christo lives and works in New York City.
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