Christo and Jeanne-Claude - Photo of the artists, 1988 - Image via huffingtonpostcom

Christo and Jeanne-Claude /   Hristo Vladimirov Yavachev and Jeanne-Claude Denat

1958

Installation, Environmental Art

christojeanneclaude.net

Christo and Jeanne-Claude
Hristo Vladimirov Yavachev and Jeanne-Claude Denat
Female
1958
September 5, 2016
Music, Gestalt, .

One of the most famous artistic duos emerging from the 20th century, Christo Vladimirov Javacheff and Jeanne-Claude Denat were a married couple who authored iconic environmental works of art. They are responsible for some of the most influential pieces of that particular artistic field, such as the wrapping of the Reichstag in Berlin, Running Fence in Sonoma and The Gates in New York City’s Central Park. Despite their pieces being visually stunning due to their scale and oftentimes cloaked in controversy, Christo and Jeanne-Claude have repeatedly rejected all theories that their projects contain any kind of deeper meaning other than their immediate aesthetic impact. The duo instead claimed that creating art was a process based on nothing but joy and beauty of finding new ways to present already familiar landscapes.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude - The Pont Neuf Wrapped, 1975 - Image via christojeanneclaudenet
Christo and Jeanne-Claude – The Pont Neuf Wrapped, 1975 – Image via christojeanneclaude.net

Before They Met Each Other

Christo Vladimirov Javacheff was born on the 13th of June in 1935, in the town of Gabrovo, a city in northern Bulgaria. His father was a hard worker and a businessman who ran a fabric factory whilst his mother was a secretary at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sofia. Ever since an early age, Christo was more attracted to the world in which his mother worked then his dad’s factory – oftentimes, professors from the Academy would visit the Javacheff home and discuss arts with young Christo. It came as no surprise that the youngest member of the Javacheff family eventually started to attend classes at the Sofia Academy but no one expected him to display such a rebellious and unique artistic personality. After spending three years at the Academy, Christo went to Prague in 1957 – from here, he managed to get himself illegally to the West by bribing a railway official and stowing away with several other individuals on board a train transporting medicine and medical supplies into Austria. He settled in Vienna and enrolled at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts but was yet again unable to feel satisfied with the surroundings. In the year of 1958, Christo moved to Paris, hoping that the City of Light will be ready to offer him all the artistic options Sofia, Prague and Vienna were not able to. This period of his life was marked by both financial hardship and social isolation due to not knowing the French language. Christo was earning money by painting low-cost portraits and was starting to feel that the move to Paris was a big mistake – little did he know that his world was about to take a major turn for the better as he was about to meet the love of his life.

In one of the most bizarre and romantic coincidences[1] of art history, Jeanne-Claude Denat was born on the same day and year as Christo Javacheff. She grew up in Casablanca, Morocco, where her French military father was stationed at the time. Her dad was a single parent and Jeanne-Claude’s childhood was marked by loneliness as she grew up in a foreign country and had but one custodian who was often away on military duties. In 1952, she graduated from the University of Tunis, earning a degree in Latin and philosophy. Five years later, Jeanne-Claude and her father went back to France and settled in Paris. People who knew the young artist from this early period of her life described her as rather gregarious and honest, with a surprisingly strong touch of her father’s military personality. She dyed her hair red, had a problem with cigarettes and worked as an overseer responsible for supervising work crews. Jeanne-Claude met Christo in October 1958 when she was commissioned to paint a portrait of her mother. Although she was engaged to Philippe Planchon, Jeanne-Claude fell in love with the young portrait artist and got pregnant by Christo. Despite that fact, she still married Planchon, but left him right after the honeymoon was finished. Her family was rather displeased with this decision, particularly because of Christo’s refugee status – they’ve even temporarily estranged themselves from their daughter. This all changed for the better as Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s son, Cyril, was born on 11th of May, 1960.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude - Wrapped Coast, 1968 - Image via christojeanneclaudenet
Christo and Jeanne-Claude – Wrapped Coast, 1968 – Image via christojeanneclaude.net

Forming an Artistic Duo

During one of her numerous interviews, Jeanne-Claude stated that she became an artist only because Christo was himself in those waters and that she would take the path of a dentist if her chosen soulmate was of that profession. In fact, it was both of them that fell in love with creating art by making it alongside each other. In 1961, Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped barrels at the port of Cologne and this project stands as their very first mutual collaboration[2]. A year later, the couple presented their first iconic piece, titled as Rideau de Fer (Iron Curtain). Out of protest aimed against the Berlin Wall, Christo and Jeanne-Claude blocked off Rue Visconti, a small alley near the river Seine, with oil barrels. This demonstration made the young couple famous in Parisian neo avant-garde circles. Desiring new audiences and circumstances, Christo’s rebellious spirit yet again spurred him and the duo decided to relocate. They’ve traveled across the Atlantic in 1964 and arrived in New York City. Although poor and lacking fluency in the English language, Christo managed to include his work in several galleries, including the well-known Castelli Gallery. Soon, the duo began to create storefronts and sell them in order to finance larger artistic projects.

Throughout most of their mutual career, Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s pocket was the only source of funds behind their huge-scale projects

Christo and Jeanne-Claude - Running Fence, 1973 - Image via archdailycom
Christo and Jeanne-Claude – Running Fence, 1973 – Image via archdaily.com

Building a Reputation

Every single project on which Christo and Jeanne-Claude worked on since 1972 has been recorded by their friend photographer Wolfgang Volz[3]. Additionally, their works have also been the center point subjects for documentary films by Albert and David Maysles. During their forming years, the duo insisted that all of their projects be credited only to Christo – this was due to the couple’s prejudices against female artists in the art world. This was the cause for many problems and issues between these artists and many other individuals who wanted to promote feminism within creative circles. Standing behind their decision, Jeanne-Claude once stated the following: The decision to use only the name Christo was made deliberately when we were young because it was difficult for one artist to be established and we wanted to put all the chances on our side. Subsequently, Jeanne-Claude took on the role as Christo’s manager in order to give the duo an upper hand and advance their success. The pair did not officially reveal Jeanne-Claude as the second half in the creative process until the year of 1994.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s mature projects were greeted with much more success than their previous works. They liked to state that the goal of their art is achieving joy and beauty without inserting unnecessary political connotations – however, their work would often lead to responses associated with political and social states of our societies. Most of their projects were rooted in the 1962 project of blocking off the Rue Visconti in Paris. A year after they’ve successfully participated in the 1968’s Documenta 4 in Kassel, Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped the coast of Little Bay, in Sydney, Australia, as a part of the Alcorso-Sekers Travelling Scholarship. More than one hundred laborers and 17,000 work hours were required in order to cover two and a half kilometers of coast and cliffs up to 26 meters in height with 95,600 m2 of synthetic fabric and over 56 km of rope – this was the largest single artwork ever made at this time and is a crucial piece in the history of Australia’s modern art. A similar project was later performed in the Rocky Mountains near Rifle, Colorado (Valley Curtain, 1970) when a 400-meter-long cloth was stretched across a valley of Rifle Gap.

Covering Reichstag in 2016 by floating with umbrellas would not be on the same contact page, but that piers site would not stop Christo and Jeanne-Claude
Christo and Jeanne-Claude – Surrounded Islands, 1983 – Image via archdaily.com

Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Golden Years

After Christo became a United States citizen in 1973, the duo launched arrangements for the Running Fence – a fabric barrier carried by steel posts and cables was to be run through the panorama and led into the sea. The fence was to be 5.5 meters high and 40 kilometers long. The project was a great success, but Christo had to pay a $60,000 fine because they did not have all the appropriate permissions. Inspired by the success of the Running Fence and spurred by the hefty sum of money fined, Christo and Jeanne-Claude started to take paid commissions. In addition, they continued to plan their future projects – like wrapping the Reichstag in Berlin and the Pont-Neuf in Paris, as well as covering footpaths in a Kansas City park (Wrapped Walk Ways). In the early 1980s, Jeanne-Claude wanted to surround eleven islands in Miami’s Biscayne Bay with 603,850 m2 of pink polypropylene floating fabric. This enormous installation was completed on May 7, 1983, and was held in place for two weeks before it was taken down. As like all the other previous projects, the Surrounded Islands was completely financed by the actual artists themselves. On 3 January of 2005, work began on the installation of the couple’s most protracted project – The Gates, Central Park, New York, 1979–2005. The Gates full name was intended to be a reference to the time that passed from their initial proposal until they were actualy able to go ahead with the project. A total of 7,503 gates made of saffron color fabric were placed on paths in Central Park. This project’s price tag was around $21 million US dollars and it was crowned with the Doris C. Freedman Award for Public Art. Looking back at his life’s work, Christo stated the following: Do you know that I don’t have any works 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 gone than to create things that will remain.

Fifty years of mutual artistic collaboration was crowned in 2005 with their greatest project ever – The Gates of Central Park

Covering Reichstag in 2016 by floating with umbrellas would not be on the same contact page, but that piers site would not stop Christo and Jeanne-Claude
Christo and Jeanne-Claude – The Gates, 2005 – Image via megalopolisnow.com

The End of the Duo

With their artistic and personal relationship lasting for over fifty years, the duo was forced to an end as Jeanne-Claude died at the age of 74[4], on November 18, 2009, as a result of complications behind a brain aneurysm. At the time of her death, she and Christo were planning a new project, titled as Over the River – they’ve wanted to set their iconic fabric panels over the Arkansas River in Colorado. They also wanted to realize The Mastaba in which there were supposed to be 410,000 oil barrels configured as a trapezoidal prism. Although Christo never stopped being an active artist, his creative output was never the same again. Despite the rather sad ending of this incredible story that is now widely considered to be one of the most iconic tales in art history, a bright light of hope remains as the works of Jeanne-Claude Denat and Christo Vladimirov Javacheff have entered history despite their ungrateful temporary nature.

These artists are represented by Galerie Thalberg Zurich, Puccio Fine Art, Galerie Fluegel-Roncak and Gregg Shienbaum Fine Art Miami.

References:

  1. Anonymous. Christo and Jeanne-Claude Biography, Bio [September 5, 2016]
  2. Chernow, B., Christo and Jeanne-Claude: A Biography, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2002
  3. Hoelterhoff, M., Jeanne-Claude — Christo’s Dynamic Muse, Bloomberg L.P., New York, 2009
  4. Schudel, M., Jeanne-Claude and Christo, The Washington Post, Washington D.C., 2009

Featured image: Christo and Jeanne-Claude – Photo of the artists, 1988 – Image via huffingtonpost.com
All images used for illustrative purposes only.

Year Exhibition TitleGallery/ MuseumSolo/Group
20163D - Skulpturen und ObjekteGalerie Georg Nothelfer, BerlinGroup
2016Origines et horizon. La Collection d'art Nestlé Musée Jenisch, VeveyGroup
2016Seeing Round Corners: The Art of the CircleTurner Contemporary, Margate, KentGroup
2016Landscapes After Ruskin: Redefining The Sublime Hall Art Foundation, Reading, VTGroup
2016Wolfsburg Unlimited - Eine Stadt als WeltlaborKunstmuseum Wolfsburg, WolfsburgGroup
2016Dialogues of the GazeFundacio Suñol, BarcelonaGroup
2016Christo & Jeanne-Claude: The Tom Golden CollectionThe Hyde Collection, Glens Falls, NYSolo
2015Christo: Show Windows and Store Fronts, 1963-67Craig F. Starr Gallery, New York, NYSolo
2015Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Prints and Objects 1963-2014Sofia Art Gallery, SofiaSolo
2015Christo & Jeanne-Claude: Reveal by concealing2C for ART, SalzburgSolo
2014Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Featuring Works from the Bequest of David C. CopleynMuseum of Contemporary Art San Diego La JollanGroup
2013Christo und Jeanne-Claude: Verhüllter Reichstag, Berlin, 1971-95. Werke aus Berliner SammlungennVilla SchöningennGroup
2013Christo and Jeanne-Claude: The Mastaba, Project for Abu Dhabi, United Arab EmiratesnGuy Pieters GallerynGroup
2013Christo and Jeanne-Claude: The Tom Golden CollectionnPrice Tower Arts CenternGroup
2012Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Prints and ObjectsnLowe Art Museum at the University of MiaminGroup
2012Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Prints and ObjectsnLauren Rogers Museum of ArtnGroup
2012Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Opere nella Collezione WürthnArt Forum Würth CapenanGroup
2011Christo and Jeanne-Claude: 40 Years - 12 ExhibitionsnAnnely Juda Fine Art, London, EnglandnGroup
2010Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Remembering the Running Fence (Documentation Exhibition)nSmithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, USAnGroup
2009UntitledAsheville Museum of Art, Asheville, NCnGroup
2008UntitledSangre de Cristo Art Center, Pueblo, COnGroup
2007UntitledMontrasio Arte, Milano, ItalynGroup
2007UntitledMuseum Würth, Turnhout, Belgium nSolo
2006UntitledAustin Museum of Art, Austin, TXnGroup
2006UntitledMuseo d’Arte Moderna, Lugano, Switzerland Solo
2005The Gates (1979-2005)Central Park, New York, NYGroup
2005UntitledMuseum of The City of New York, New York, NYSolo
2004UntitledNational Academy of Design, New York, NYnGroup
2003UntitledKröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, The NetherlandsnGroup
2002UntitledNational Gallery of Art, Washington, DCnGroup
2001Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Early Works 1958-69nMartin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, GermanynGroup
2001Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin, 1971-95 (Documentation Exhibition)nMartin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, GermanynGroup
2001Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Two Works in ProgressnNeuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin, GermanynGroup
2000Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Black and WhitenAnnely Juda Fine Art, London, EnglandnGroup
1999UntitledHong Kong Arts Center, Hong Kong, ChinanGroup
1998Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Early Works and Works in ProgressnGalerie Beyeler, Basel, SwitzerlandnGroup
1998Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Early Works 1958-1969 and Works in ProgressnPalazzo Bricherasio, Torino, ItalynGroup
1997UntitledDenver Art Museum, Denver, COnGroup
1997Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Sculpture and ProjectsnYorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, EnglandnGroup
1996UntitledFort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne, INnGroup
1995Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Three Works in ProgressnAnnely Juda Fine Art, London, EnglandnGroup
1994UntitledGaleria Morone, Milan, ItalynGroup
1993Christo: Der Reichstag und urbane ProjektenKunstHausWien, Vienna, AustrianGroup
1992UntitledThe Shiga Museum of Modern Art, Shiga, JapannGroup
1991Christo: Early Works 1958-64nSatani Gallery, Tokyo, JapannGroup
1991Christo: Obra 1958-1991nGaleria Joan Prats, Barcelona, SpainnGroup
1991Christo: Projects Not Realised and Works in ProgressnAnnely Juda Fine Art, London, EnglandnGroup
1990Christo: John Kaldor Art Project 1990nArt Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, AustralianGroup
1989UntitledYvon Lambert-La Défense, Paris, FrancenGroup
1988UntitledThe Seibu Museum of Art, Tokyo, JapannGroup
1987UntitledSalena Gallery, Long Island University, Brooklyn, NYnGroup
1986UntitledGaleria Joan Prats, Barcelona, SpainnGroup
1985The Pont Neuf Wrapped (1975-1985), Paris, FrancenGroup
1984Christo: Objects, Collages and Drawings 1958-1984nJuda Rowan Gallery, London, EnglandnGroup
1984Christo: Wrapped Floors im Architekturmuseum in Basel, 1984nArchitekturmuseum, Basel, SwitzerlandnGroup
1983Surrounded Islands (1980-1983)Biscayne Bay, Miami, FLGroup
1982UntitledSatani Gallery, Tokyo, JapannGroup
1981Christo: Collection on Loan from the Rothschild Bank AG, ZurichnLa Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, California, USAnGroup
1981Christo: Projekte in der Stadt 1961-1981nMuseum Ludwig, Cologne, GermanynGroup
1980Christo: Exposition d'Art EnvironmentalnAlliance Française, Abu Dhabi, United Arab EmiratesnGroup
1979Christo: Urban Projects. A SurveynThe Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Massachusetts, USAnGroup
1978Christo: Zeichnungen und Collagen von realisierten und nicht realisierten ProjektennGalerie Art in Progress, Munich, GermanynGroup
1977UntitledGaleria Joan Prats, Barcelona, SpainnGroup
1976Running Fence ( 1972-1976)Sonoma and Marin Counties, CAGroup
1975UntitledThe Art Museum Princeton University, Princeton, NJnGroup
1974Christo: Otterlo Mastaba, Project for the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, HollandnAnnely Juda Fine Art, London, EnglandnGroup
1973Christo: Drawings - Otterlo Mastaba, Project for Kröller-MüllernRijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, The NetherlandsnGroup
1973Christo: Opera dal 1959/72nStudio Marconi, Milan, ItalynGroup
1972Christo: Works 1958-1972nWide White Space Gallery, Antwerp, BelgiumnGroup
1971Christo: Wrapped Floors - Wrapped Stairway - Wrapped Walk WaysnMuseum Haus Lange, Krefeld, GermanynGroup
1971Christo: Projects Not RealisednAnnely Juda Fine Art, London, EnglandnGroup
1970Wrapped MonumentsMonument to Vittorio Emanuele, Plaza Group
1969ChristoCentral Street Gallery, Sydney, AustralianGroup
1969Christo: Wool WorksnNational Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, AustralianGroup
1969Christo: Wrap In Wrap OutnMuseum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Illinois, USAnGroup
1969Christo: Wrapped Floor and StairwaynWide White Space Gallery, Antwerp, BelgiumnGroup
1968Christo: Projects of Packages, Storefronts, and Barrels for the National Gallery, RomenJohn Gibson Gallery, New York City, USAnGroup
1968Christo Wraps the Museum: Scale Models, Photomontages, and Drawings for a Non-EventnThe Museum of Modern Art, New York City, USAnGroup
1968Christo: Monuments and ProjectsnInstitute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USAnGroup
1967Christo: Store Fronts, Empaquetages, ProjectsnGalerie Der Spiegel, Cologne, GermanynGroup
1966Christo: Empaquetages, Volumen Temporale, Store FrontsnStedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The NetherlandsnGroup
1966ChristoLeo Castelli Gallery, New York City, USAnGroup
1964ChristoGalleria Gian Enzo Sperone, Torino, ItalynGroup
1964Christo: Store FrontsnGalerie Schmela, Düsseldorf, GermanynGroup
1963ChristoGalleria del Leone, Venice, ItalynGroup
1963ChristoGalleria La Salita, Roma, ItalynGroup
1963Christo: Empaquetage MonumentalnGalleria Apollinaire, Milano, ItalynGroup
1962Christo: Monument Temporaire - Mur d'AssemblagenGalerie J, Paris, FrancenGroup
1961ChristoGalerie Haro Lauhus, Cologne, GermanynGroup