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Christo, master of the monumental wrap-up

Update: June, 01/2020 - 11:05

 

Bulgarian-born Christo insisted on the ephemeral nature of his work, even though they took years of planning. — AFP/VNA Photo

PARIS — From Paris's oldest bridge to Berlin's Reichstag, Bulgarian-born US artist Christo spent decades wrapping landmarks and creating improbable structures around the world.

Christo, who died on Sunday in New York at the age of 84, collaborated with his wife of 51 years, Jeanne-Claude, until her death in 2009. Afterwards, he continued to produce dramatic pieces into his 80s.

Their large-scale productions would take years of preparation and were costly to erect: but they were mostly ephemeral, coming down after just weeks or months.

"Totally useless," said Christo of their work in the 2019 documentary, Walking on Water.

"Art is all about pleasure. Visual pleasure is very important — very invigorating, very engaging," he told The New York Times in 2016.

Gaunt, bespectacled, his long hair becoming wispy and white in age, Christo had been planning to cover Paris' Arc de Triomphe in silvery-blue recyclable material in 2021 to coincide with a retrospective at the city's Pompidou Centre.

The statement from his office Sunday announcing his death said that, in accordance with his wishes, that project would go ahead and was on schedule for September next year.

Bulgarian fugue, Paris romance 

Born in 1935 in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, Christo Vladimiroff Javacheff later arrived in Paris in 1956 where he mixed with artists such as Yves Klein and Niki de Saint-Phalle, and dabbled in abstract painting.

He met Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon in 1958, as he was doing a portrait of her mother, and they married the same year.

Their work was collaborative but they at first called themselves just Christo, creating the impression that their production was his alone.

Their son Cyril was born in 1960 and the family moved to the United States in 1964, Christo obtaining US nationality in 1973.

The art of covering up 

Their first large-scale public installation appeared in 1968 when the couple wrapped Swiss art museum the Kunsthalle, in Berne, in 2,430sq.m of fabric.

Among the most famous of similar works across the world were the Pont Neuf in Paris which was entirely draped in silky sandstone material in 1985, and 10 years later Germany's Reichstag covered in silvery shimmering fabric.

There have been islands surrounded in floating pink material, an Australian beach covered in white, and a 39km-long cloth fence through the Californian hills.

The cost of these temporary installations can be astronomical.

The Umbrellas in 1991, for example, cost $26 million, entirely financed by the artists, according to their website. The simultaneous installation in California and Japan of hundreds of giant blue and yellow umbrellas was dismantled after 18 days.

Christo never accepted sponsorship, funding the projects through the sale of his sketches, collages, scale models and original lithographs. — AFP

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