Christo Vladimirov Javacheff, born in 1935 in Gubrovo, Bulgaria is one of the most visible American artists of our time. Jeanne-Claude Marie de Guillebon was born in 1935 in Casablanca, Morocco to French parents. Their monumental conceptual works, although dramatic, are temporary, and are recorded solely by his sketches, photographs, movies, media images and people’s memories.
Christo’s formal training began in Sofia, Bulgaria, where he studied for four years at the Fine Arts Academy. As a student he worked in the environment for the first time on a government project to beautify the route of the Orient Express with the goal of presenting the Socialist countryside more favorably. In 1957 he moved to Vienna, where he attended the Fine Arts Academy. A year later, he wrapped his first objects: bottles, cans, and small packages.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude decided to collaborate for the first time in 1961 and although they share the joint authorship of their large-scale projects, Christo is the one who wraps the objects, makes the packages and scale models as well as does the drawings. Christo created his first large scale piece in 1962 when he blocked the Rue Visconti with oil drums.
In 1964, he moved to his current residence in SoHo, New York City, and began creating storefronts similar to stage sets. The monumental and conceptual works for which he is known worldwide, such as the 24½ mile, 18-foot high Running Fence in Northern California, and the orange Valley Curtain in Colorado were done soon after. To Christo, the wrapped buildings, floors, and coastlines do not in themselves constitute the finished works. Conceptual art focuses on the idea, motivation and effects of the piece, rather than on the tangible object of art.
There are at least four stages to Christo’s work: the fantasy stage which incorporates the formation of the idea; the anticipation and the preparation; the actual execution stage; and the memory stage which is the final and lasting product. Christo takes art out of museum settings and makes it accessible to everyone, seeking to integrate artistic, social, political and environmental concerns. It is Christo’s objective to involve the entire community in the creation of his pieces. He regards every action whether it be an inflammatory article or an opinion expressed on the street, as an inextricable part of the final work. Most importantly, he wants to raise the public’s consciousness and understanding of art.
Surrounded Islands was completed on May 7, 1983 and remained in place for only two weeks around the Biscayne Islands off the Miami coast. Christo surrounded the eleven islands with 6.4 million square feet of pink polypropylene fabric which extended 200 feet from each island on floating booms. The project cost $3.5 million and utilized hundreds of workers. Seven public hearings, ten permit applications, $400,000 in environmental tests, 30 months of preparation, as well as numerous attorneys, marine biologists, ornithologists and marine engineers were needed to complete the project. It was viewed from the air, land and water and although contrasting with the blue and green of the environment, was linked to Miami’s Latin aesthetic.
Christo always worked with the issue of hidden and revealed, and as in this piece, with the meanings of borders and the associations they have in people’s lives. These pink island borders were intended not as barriers but as catalysts to draw to the islands, their shapes, and relationships to each other as well as the surrounding environment. With merely a temporary change, Christo forever alters how people perceive the area, and the inter-relationship of art, society and politics.
Surrounded Islands is an expression of and a tribute to the ways in which the people of Miami live between land and water. Christo, himself, says that,
All my projects are some kind of flirt with nature and really, no one knows how to do Surrounded Islands –I tell my crews to improvise and use their creative abilities to solve problems; it is part of the piece.
Grace Glueck of the New York Times says,
Where other artists put nature in a frame, Christo goes boldly to the landscape itself , bringing to it elegant artistic effects that recall our attention to the splendor of the natural environment (or what’s left of it) in the same romantic spirit as the painters of the 19th century West.
Just as Thomas Cole (1801-1848), George Inness (1825-1894), and Thomas Moran (1837-1926) attempted to portray their awe and respect of a newly discovered Western landscape, Christo tries to inspire a renewed understanding of the beauty and fragility of our environment.
The NBMAA is proud to announce its newest acquisition Wrapped Snoopy Doghouse Project for the Charles M. Schulz Museum, Santa Rosa, Californiasoon to be on view as the New Acquisition in the Introduction Gallery on the first floor.
In September 1976, Charles M. Schulz (1922–2000), cartoonist of Peanuts, flew over the length of Running Fence. As art follows life, Christo’s project became the subject of a Peanuts comic strip on November 20, 1978. The circle was completed in October 2003, when Christo and Jeanne Claude unveiled a 3-D version of the last panel of the 1978 comic strip. To finance their work, Christo and Jeanne Claude sell studies like this hand-collaged lithograph. Along with photographs, these studies remain the only tangible records of the work of art long after the piece is dismantled. So far, the NBMAA has mounted two exhibitions devoted to the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
Do you feel that Christo’s work is still as controversial as it once used to be? Or do you feel that people have become accustomed to this type of work ? Can you think of any other artists that create similar kinds of work? Do you consider it to be a good idea to have some of their projects permanently installed like Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field in the desert of New Mexico? Or, do you believe the appeal of the work is that it is transitory?
The NBMAA would like to thank the following 2010 ART Party of the Year donors for their generous donation of Wrapped Snoopy Doghouse Project for the Charles M. Schulz Museum, Santa Rosa, California:
The Brad Davis Charitable Foundation, Inc.
Donna and Douglas Lasher
Margaret and Roger Lawson
Susan and John Rathgeber
Marzena and Greg Silpe
Linda and Michael Tomasso