Christo, his birthname was Christo Vladimirov Javacheff, was born in 1935 in Gabrovo, Bulgaria. From 1953 to 1956 he studied painting, sculpting, and stage design at the Academy in Sofia. In 1956 he left Bulgaria via Czechoslovakia to continue his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna under Fritz Wotruba. In 1958 he moved to Pairs where he first earned his living as a portraitist. There he met Jeanne-Claude (Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon, born in 1935 in Casablanca). In Paris Christo was attracted by the Nouveau Réalisme, an artist movement founded by Pierre Restany, Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely, and Niki de Saint Phalle. The group’s questioning of traditional art concepts, following the tradition of Dadaism, influenced Christo as much as their repertoire of objects and materials that consisted of everyday items and waste products.
Christo’s early work done in Paris already showed an artistic concern he has pursued until today. Starting in 1958, he created new layers of meaning for found objects, everyday items, and various commodities through the principle of wrapping or veiling. He covered his objects with opaque cloth, later with transparent synthetic material, fixed the wrapping with string and often treated it with glue and sandy material. Christo’s wrappings fix and preserve, change and unveil the original appearance, the function, and the identity of the objects. At the same time, the value of the objects is enhanced. In his Paris apartment Christo at first arranged and packaged single objects that had been discarded or were without value, such as cans, oil drums, and bottles. He increasingly turned towards objects »in use« (Wrapped Night Table, 1960), and finally he focused on larger wrapping actions.
Pierre Restany recognized in Christo’s works two methods of operation that took up and further developed the ideas of the Nouveau Réalisme in ways that were visionary in their architectonics. In the packaging he saw defamiliarization as well as a decreed change of perspective through which, he argued, the presence of the object was enhanced. The seriality that became more and more obvious in Christo’s work, e. g. in his stacking of oil drums (Wrapped Oil Barrels, 1958 — 59; Iron Curtain, 1962), was considered by Restany a heightening of the commodity character of the everyday items used. At the same time, he saw the works as a counter-position to architectural developments and urban structures of the time that were based on function (Restany, in: Domus, 402, 1963).
Christo’s veiled or wrapped objects acquired larger dimensions and a decidedly serial character in works like the Dockside Packages which he installed in the Cologne harbor in 1961. Indeed, through their volume and their instalment in specific, exterior spaces, these object formations acquired an openly architectural character and were more oriented towards their urban environment. This development was of great significance for Christo’s future work.
In 1964 Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who had married in 1962, moved to the U.S. There they created the Store Fronts – large Environments of recreated store entrances, façades, and shop windows in their original size. They show nothing, or almost nothing, their function being again questioned through the veiling with cloth, with colored or wrapping paper. Yet similar to the wrapped objects, they evoke desires. With these works, situated on the boundary between interior and exterior space (Four Store Fronts Corner, 1964 — 65; Corridor Store Front, 1967), objects for wrapping, spatial dimensions, as well as dimensions of the wrapping itself emerged that enabled Christo to realize his huge architectonic, landscape, and urban projects.
The veiling of buildings done in the 1960s could draw on the first projects in public space from the early years of the decade. In Spoleto, Italy, Christo createdWrapped Fountain and Wrapped Medieval Tower (1968), where he focused on a baroque fountain and a medieval tower that were singular as to their urban and historical location or monument character. Both fountain and tower were at the same time withdrawn from and exposed to the public gaze. As part of a museum anniversary, he veiled the Art Museum in Basel, Switzerland. The works that were now presented in a more temporary and Action-like way, seemed to function as sculptural markers in the cityscape. With their new textile-wrapped look, they were landmarks that were also exposed to the specific light and the lighting of exterior spaces, which gave them a more flexible appearance (cf. Wrapped Pont Neuf, 1985; Wrapped Reichstag, 1995). Another huge and equally sculptural package was created in 1968 at the Documenta IV in Kassel (5600 Cubicmeter Package, 1968). Yet now the packaged object lacked contents as well as supportive structure. It was only filled with air. Placed as a landmark on the greens of the exhibition area, new wrapping strategies, a changed relation between veil and the veiled as well as the exterior space, emerged.
With the project Wrapped Coast, done at Little Bay near Sidney (1968/69), Christo’s wrappings reached a new dimension as to their position in exterior space and landscape. With its white wrapping, tied with ropes, the coastal section mutated into an iceberg-like formation. As with the other large projects, the artistic presentation and documentation of the ephemeral project that deeply intervened in the perception of the landscape, shifted to different mediums: large-format drawings and collages, cloth patterns, layouts, map sections. Moreover, starting in 1972, Wolfgang Volz documented Christo’s projects with photographs that were commented by the artist with charcoal or wax crayon. Christo realized further landscape projects with his orange curtain in the Rocky Mountains (1972), the Surrounded Islands in Florida (1983), or The Umbrellas, Joint Project for Japan and USA (1991). Clearly, these works shifted the initial concept of comprehensive packaging towards the development of partially veiling or marking structures in landscapes.
The construction of a wall of oil drums in the »Gasometer« Oberhausen (The Wall, 1989) again took up the earlier objects and the urban context of the wrappings done in the 1960s. Yet variation was achieved through using new, unveiled drums. Like Christo’s landmarks, this work demonstrated a rising interest in structures of color and shape of the opaque architectonic object.
Since 1994 the artist couple, highly aware of its public status, has used the name »Christo and Jeanne-Claude.« As they themselves indicate, their collaboration already started in 1961 with the exhibition of the cloth-covered Dockside Packages in the Cologne harbour, and the name finally acknowledges this. Considering the entire œuvre, the couple has come to differentiate between the objects, wrappings, collages, drawings, models, and lithographs done since 1958 under the artist name »Christo,« and those large projects in exterior space that emerged under the name of both artists.
In 1972, 1978, 1980, and 1990 Christo participated in the Venice Biennale. In 1977 he exhibited his work at the Documenta VI in Kassel. Christo and Jeanne-Claude have kept showing their veiling projects as part of their own, temporarily limited Actions, and since 1961 their work has been documented in galleries and museum exhibitions. Among the more recent exhibitions are those at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art (2004), the Museum für Angewandte Kunst in Vienna (2006), the Centre Pompidou in Paris (2006), the Wilhelm Lehmbruch Museum, Duisburg, and the Museum Würth, Turnhout (2007).
Christo and Jeanne-Claude live and work in New York.
Christo & Jeanne-Claude – internationale Projekte. Die Sammlung des Museum Würth: Ausst.-Kat. National Academy of Design New York u.a., hg. v. D. Ronte, New York u.a. 2004
Fineberg, J.: Christo and Jeanne-Claude: On the way to »The Gates«, Central Park, New York City, New Haven u.a. (Yale University Press) 2004
Christo and Jeanne-Claude, prints and objects, 1963 — 95: Ausst.-Kat. hg. v. J. Schellmann, J. Benecke, München 1995