Christo, the artist known for wrapping things, passed away at the age of 84. Christo's greatness was in monumental works that created a temporary transformation of chosen landscapes, conveying one-time installations. To my delight I was privileged to experience three of his installations, two of which will always be etched in my heart as multi-sensory experiences of the highest level.
When I learned of artist Christo’s death, my spontaneous response was “Oh no.” Other people responded this way to my Facebook post. Indeed not every artist gets such reactions, even beloved artists, but Christo was a particularly beloved artist and this is not surprising. He was the most generous artist I know in the history of modern art. His whole purpose was to create art that brings joy. His art was free – he never charged entrance fees to his installations: it belonged to everyone. All who experienced his art, felt this generosity. I was privileged to experience three works by Christo.
Christo, or in his full name. Christo Vladimirov Javacheff was born in Bulgaria in 1935. He was a one-man artistic movement and was known for wrapping things up. He arrived in Paris in 1958, where he met his wife and business partner Jean-Claude, who was cosmically born exactly on the day he was born. Even after her death in 2009, he continued to sign under the name “Christo and Jean-Claude” to pay homage to her large part in fulfilling his artistic dreams.
So, in October 2015, when I read about Christo’s new project, I knew there was no way I would miss it. The floating piers was an installation that took place from June 18 to July 3, 2016 in Lago d’Iseo, the fourth largest lake in Italy. The experience that included a three-day stay at the lake pre-opening and a close-up viewing of this crazy production can be read in detail here.
His dreams were large scale and he was able to fulfill almost all of them. In the essence of his work, a dramatic but temporary intervention in nature. In the 1970s, he wrapped a two-kilometer-long bay in Australia. It took 14,000 yards of fabric to deploy a curtain across a canyon in Colorado in 1972. In the 1980s he wrapped 11 islands in Biscayne Bay in Miami with a pink fabric that floated on the water like ballerina skirts. He also wrapped buildings: in 1985 he wrapped the Pont Neuf Bridge in Paris and in 1995 in a particularly ambitious project – the Reichstag building in Berlin. The wrapping of buildings creates a mummy like transformation.
In January 2005, Christo installed 5,000 metal gates in Central Park. On each gate a saffron-colored cloth was hung, forming an orange path that wound like a snake in the park. It was my first Christo experience and it was amazing! The day I visited the sky was blue and the ground was covered in snow. This combination of blue, white and bright orange created such beauty that brought tears of joy to my eyes. This is not the first time that art has moved me, but here it is not art in the classical sense of observation, but as an experience that is immersive – of active participation and becoming part of the work. You can see from the pictures I took that the sight from a distance was also inspiring, but walking under the orange cloth greatly enhanced the experience.
The reason I am so sorry for Christo’s passing is that unlike works of art hanging in museums, which can continue to be enjoyed even centuries after the artist’s passing – in Christo’s case, his art died with him. It is true that there are drawings and photographs, but the event itself is temporary and no physical remnant remains. By the way, all the materials used for his projects are recycled. There is still one more project we will get to see and that is the wrapped Arc de Triumph in Paris. This event was planned for September 2020 but was postponed to 2021 because of Covid-19. Everything is ready and Christo himself requested for it to take place anyway.
Another project will probably not be carried out and it was actually supposed to be Christo’s first and only permanent installation. It is a huge structure 150 meters high, which was designed to be built from oil barrels in the desert of Abu Dhabi. A “dwarf” version of the Mastaba was built in the summer of 2018 on Lake Serpentine in Hyde Park, London. The small model stood 20 meters high, consisted of 7,506 barrels and floated on the lake during the summer of 2018. There I also met Christo who came to sign his books and I was again in the right place at the right time (this time without knowing he would be there) and here he smiles at me but I did not dare to ask for a selfie …
I must say I was less excited about the Mastaba in London in comparison to the installations in New York and Italy, mainly because I lacked the participatory dimension. It was like seeing a statue in a public space, nothing more.
One thing is for sure and that is that anyone who has experienced Christo’s art will forever carry the experience in his heart and will always remember the feeling of elation attached to that experience. Thanks Christo. Rest in peace. I hope you meet up there with Jean-Claude and you’re planning some wonderful projects in the next world. Maybe we will meet again.