Christo began with his wrappings in the late 1950s when he would paint or wrap bottles and cans to oil barrels. By the summer of 1968, Christo and Jeanne-Claude gained international recognition with their 5,600 Cubicmeter Package, 60,277 sq ft inflated air package presented at the “Documenta IV” in Kassel, Germany.
In a career that has spanned well over 50 years, Christo and his wife Jean-Claude would wrap objects, buildings, landscapes, and even trees (178 to be exact in Berower Park in 1998, called Wrapped Trees).
Their approach has never been to conceal objects to the extent that its audience could no longer identify them but to allow the silhouette to spur one’s imagination.
Blurring Boundaries of Natural World and Built Environment
In 1969, Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped the coast of Little Bay, in Sydney, Australia where 100 workers and 11 volunteers dedicated 17,000 work hours to the project. Wrapped Coast was1.5 miles along the coast and cliffs up to 85 feet high from the sea level. The project required 1,029,029 sq.ft of synthetic fabric and 183,727 feet of rope making it the largest individual artwork ever made at the time.
Throughout the 70s and 80s, the projects by Christo and Jeanne-Claude became more ambitious and monumental in scale and sculptural complexity.. In 1972, they stretched a 1,312 ft. long cloth across Rifle Gap, a valley in Colorado for their Valley Curtain project. The project would have a $400,000 budget and unfortunately would be destroyed within 28 hours of the cloth hanging due to an intense gale storm..
And in 1985, they wrapped the Pont Neuf in Paris. The project which required 430,556 sq.ft of golden sandstone colored fabric to wrap one of the most beautiful bridges in Paris would be viewed by 3 million visitors in just the two weeks before it was removed.
Wrapping a Symbol of Democracy
Perhaps one of the most recognized art image of Christo and Jeanne-Claude would be the Wrapped Reichstag of Berlin, Germany. After 24 years of fighting through 70s 80s and 90s to get their project approved, the German Parliament building, Bundestag, finally allowed Christo and Jeanne-Claude to go ahead.
On February 25, 1994, Christo cried “we won!” and the wrapping would begin on June 17, 1995.
Since 1971, Christo and Jeanne-Claude had been trying to convince the German parliament to do this art installation at the Reichstag. They saw the Reichstag as a symbol of freedom despite the structure’s troubled history in the late 19th century under Kaiser Wilhelm II. Since Christo’s escape from communist Bulgaria in 1951, freedom has been a recurring theme in his art.
“I have redesigned this building, I have made a new shape and a new structure to house the fabric, and I decide every drop and every fold in the fabric.” Jean-Claude added: “Everything has an esthetic purpose, to allow the fabric to cascade down from the roof in a particular way. Without this, it would be just a covered Reichstag. It would not be by us.”
On June 23, 1995, the last of the 70 tailor-made silvery fabric panels which consisted of over 1,076,390 sq. ft. of fabric tied by several feet of blue rope was installed on the Reichstag. The site was spectacular and within 14 days, five million visitors came to see, dance and celebrate around the “Wrapped Reichstag,” boasting a world record attendance for a two-week cultural event.
The New York Times called Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Wrapped Reichstag a “work of art, a cultural event, a political happening and ambitious piece of business.”
In an interview with the Guardian, Christo shares, “It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen: 100 rock climbers abseiling down the facade of the Reichstag, slowly unfurling this huge silvery curtain. There were no cranes or machinery, just people descending in a kind of aerial ballet. It was 1995, and huge crowds came to watch. Then, when it was finished, they came up to stroke the fabric.”
Passing The Gates
In 2005, The Gates, Central Park, New York, 1979–2005 in New York’s Central Park, was to reference the time that passed from when they first proposed the project to when they would finally be allowed to install it. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg praised The Gates as “one of the most exciting public art projects ever put on anywhere in the world.”
No doubt for those fortunate 4 million visitors who have walked under the 23 miles path of saffron colored fabric panels, The Gates must have been one of the most unforgettable Land Art experiences in an urban setting – an inspirational public art by the unyielding artistic commitment and perseverance of the duo for their life time of wrapping projects.
Sadly, Jean-Claude passed away in 2009. However, Christo, now over 80 years old, is currently working on three projects simultaneously that were designed in part with Jeanne-Claude.
To his critics, Christo has this to say, “I am an artist, and I have to have courage … Do you know that I don’t have any artworks that exist? They all go away when they’re finished. Only the preparatory drawings, and collages are left, giving my works an almost legendary character. I think it takes much greater courage to create things to be gone than to create things that will remain.”