Christo and Jeanne-Claude
Biography of Postmodernist Packaging (Empaquetage) Artists.
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Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin (1995)
An example of empaquetage, a new
form of postmodernist art.

Christo & Jeanne-Claude (b.1935; 1935-2009)

Contents

Introduction
Early Life
Packaging (Empaquetage) as a Form of Art
America
Other Major Packaging Projects
The Gates, Central Park, New York, 1979-2005
Future Works



Encirclement of Eleven Florida Islands
in Pink (1983), Biscayne Bay. A cross
between performance, installation
and land art.

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MODERN PAINTERS
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and Jeanne-Claude, see:
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Introduction

The two postmodernist artists Christo Javacheff and Jeanne-Claude Denat formed one of the closest and most creative collaborations in 20th Century contemporary art. Based in New York, the couple specialized in a unique form of avant-garde art known as 'empaquetage' - meaning packaging or wrapping of objects. Beginning in 1958 with small items, they extended the idea to the wrapping of buildings, coastlines, even offshore islands. In the process, they created a sort of hybrid artform - a combination of conceptual art, outdoor installation, and large scale land art. Their works include the wrapping of the Berlin Reichstag building, the Pont-Neuf bridge in Paris, a stretch of Australian coastline and eleven islands in Biscayne Bay, Florida. One of the least known contemporary art movements, empaquetage is essentially a transitory artform done for reasons of aesthetics, rather than environmental concerns. The partnership was ended in November 2009 by Jeanne-Claude's death following a brain aneurysm. By any yardstick, Christo and Jeanne-Claude must be considered two of the most original artists of of the 20th century. Their public art has touched the lives of people in four continents.

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Early Life

Born Hristo Yavashev in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, Christo trained at the Academy of Arts in Sofia from 1952 to 1956. After further brief periods of study in Prague, Vienna (where he studied under the great Austrian sculptor Fritz Wotruba) and Geneva, he settled in Paris in 1958 where (stateless, following the withdrawal of his Bulgarian citizenship) he survived by painting portraits. Meantime, Jeanne-Claude - born on the same day as Christo to a French military family in Morocco - grew up in French North Africa, earning a Philosophy Degree at the University of Tunis in 1952. She returned to Paris in 1957. Not long afterwards she met Christo when he came to paint her mother's portrait. Their first child, Cyril, came along in May 1960, leading to a temporary estrangement between Jeanne-Claude and her parents, who were not enamored of her relationship with a poverty-stricken Bulgarian refugee.

Packaging as a Form of Art

Christo began experimenting with empaquetage in 1958, shortly after arriving in Paris. He started by wrapping paint tins from his studio with canvas, or semi-transparent plastic, and decorating them with sand, glue and car paint. It is true that the great Dada artist Man Ray had already produced work along these lines, but Christo was the first to properly develop the concept and turn it into a pioneering form of postmodernism.

His first collaboration in wrapping objects with Jeanne-Claude - whose initial responsibility was purely organizational (overseeing work crews, raising funds and so on) - was in 1961, when they packaged barrels at the port of Cologne. This was followed in 1962, with their Visconti project - otherwise known as Rideau de Fer (Iron Curtain) - the blocking of a small street near the River Seine, with oil barrels, in protest at the newly erected Berlin Wall. Jeanne-Claude managed to dissuade arriving police from clearing the protest blockage, at least for several hours, and the event (or perhaps happening) made the couple known all over the city. Christo also had a one-man show at this time, in the Galerie Haro Lauhus, in Cologne.

Emigration to America

In September 1964, Christo and Jeanne-Claude emigrated to the United States. Although without money or a proper grasp of English, Christo succeeded in getting his work shown in several galleries, including the well-known Leo Castelli Gallery in New York. In addition, he produced a number of Store Fronts, built to scale, whose sale helped to finance larger projects. A number of these took several years to plan, organize and execute.

The first was an air package with a volume of 5,600 cubic metres, which was to be lifted by cranes and visible from a distance of 15 miles (25 km). By employing two of the largest cranes in Europe, the project was successfully engineered in August 1968 at a cost of $70,000 which Christo and Jeanne-Claude had raised themselves.

After this came two building packaging projects. The first was in 1968 and involved the wrapping of the Kunsthalle (art museum) in Berne. The second involved the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

The next large-scale wrapping project was staged in late 1969 when they packaged a 1.5 mile (2.5 km) stretch of coast at Little Bay in Sydney, Australia. This involved 100 workers, 95,600 square metres of synthetic fabric, 56 kilometres of rope and a total of 17,000 work hours. Observer reactions were mostly positive, and the project had a major impact on art in Australia.

In 1973, the stateless Christo finally became an American citizen.

From 1972 to September 1976, Christo and Jeanne-Claude were tied up in negotiations and planning for their Running Fence project in California. This required a 40-kilometre long fabric fence (5.5 metres high), supported by steel posts and steel cables, running through the landscape of Sonoma and Marin Counties, down to the sea. It was finally completed in September 1976.

Other Major Packaging Projects

In May 1983, Christo and Jeanne-Claude executed their installation of Surrounded Islands - the encirclement of eleven islands in Miami's Biscayne Bay with 603,850 square metres of pink polypropylene floating fabric. It lasted for two weeks. Like most of their monumental wrapping events, it was financed entirely from the sale of preparatory pastel drawings, collages, charcoal drawings, lithographs and other works.

In August 1984, after almost a decade of negotiations with the Parisian authorities, the couple received permission to wrap the Pont-Neuf bridge in the centre of Paris. The job required 40,000 square metres of fabric. Work began in August 1985 and was completed on 22 September. Over the next two weeks an estimated three million people visited the bridge.

The next big project was the Reichstag in Berlin. In June/July 1995, after years of negotiation, Christo and Jeanne-Claude successfully packaged the building in 100,000 square metres of fireproof polypropylene fabric. The spectacle was seen by an estimated five million visitors.

 

 

The Gates, Central Park, New York, 1979-2005

On 3 January 2005, following a quarter of century of talks, work finally started on the installation of the couple's most desired but most protracted project - The Gates, in Central Park in New York City. Involving a cost of $21 million dollars and a total of 7,503 gates, made of saffron colour fabric installed on paths in Central Park, it opened to the public for two weeks from 12 February to 27 February 2005. In return, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg presented the couple with the Doris C. Freedman Award for Public Art for their efforts. As usual, these two top contemporary artists raised all the money themselves, without recourse to sponsorship of any kind.

Future Works

These include the Over The River project, to be built on the Arkansas River near Canon City, Colorado, sometime in during the summer of 2014. In addition, a project entitled The Mastaba (a truncated rectangular pyramid) involving 400,000 oil barrels is being planned for the United Arab Emirates.

• For biographies of other postmodernist artists, see: Famous Painters.
• For more details of public artworks, see: Homepage.


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