Iconic duo, Christo and Jeanne-Claude create massive, temporary installations in stunning locations. Working with the hillsides of Japan to the scenic lakes of Italy, the world is literally their studio. American, Christo Vladimirov Javacheff was born in Bulgaria on the 13th of June. And on the same day on the other side of the world in Casablanca, Jeanne-Claude was born. They met in 1958 in Paris, when Christo was charged with painting Jeanne-Claude’s mother. It was a love story fated to happen since the day they were born, some would call it destiny. They became an inseparable team, working together to dream up and execute mega public artworks. This was till 2009 when Jeanne-Claude died in New York, but thankfully their shared ideas lived on through Christo who managed to bring them to life.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude looking for a possible site for The Mastaba, February 1982. Photo: Wolfgang Volz © 1982 Christo
The temporary nature of their artworks is all to do with the purpose of them. They’re meant to be aesthetic projects that live on in the memory of the visitors long after the artworks have been removed. It’s all about evoking a feeling of appreciation for the things that won’t last. What’s even more immersive about their artistic process is that after their exhibitions finish, all the components, fabric, metal and all are removed and recycled. The environments are left spotless, all traces of disruptions erased leaving the landscapes pristine.
When coming across their artworks, most people usually mislabel them as the dictionary definitions of land art. A way to reinterpret the environment. But to be clear, Christo and Jeanne-Claude believe that what they do is not land art, perhaps they work with the environment, but they always create artworks in places for people, urban and rural. So, they could be instead called Environmental artists. They’ve completed more than 20 projects around the world and yet, perhaps due to the nature of the projects and the number of permissions and planning needed for them, more than double that number has not been realized. Their philosophy is simple, rooted in the idea that art should be accessible to everyone and never have a particular meaning. Instead, their art is a space for people to create their own understandings and experiences in their own moment. To give you a chance to be part of it, we’ve chosen four of their most iconic artworks from different locations just for you.
The Floating Piers
Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The Floating Piers, Lake Iseo, Italy, 2014-16. Photo: Wolfgang Volz. © 2016 Christo
Think Yellow Brick road to the next level. In the heat of an Italian summer, for only 16 days in 2016, a yellow fabric runway transformed Lake Iseo into the dreamiest experience. Imagined by the couple in the 1970s, but executed by Christo alone, The Floating Piers was made up of 100,000 square meters of bright fabric. All held up by a complicated floating system made up of 220,000 cubes. It was monumental in scale, a full 3 kilometers long and 16-meter wide walkway and completely free to the public. Following their philosophy, the work was completely accessible to everyone. It’s island-hopping elevated to the next level, allowing visitors to walk from Sulzano to Monte Isola to the island of San Paolo, all while walking on water. The location was idyllic, framed with rising mountains and all splashed with Mediterranean sunshine.
“The light and water transformed the bright yellow fabric to shades of red and gold throughout the sixteen days” – Christo
If you’re wondering why 3 kilometers, why are all their projects so massive? It’s got nothing to do with the ‘bigger is better’ mentality, instead, it’s quite the opposite. Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s whole philosophy is about temporarily transforming the way we experience and view an environment. By adding a strip of striking yellow fabric to this classic landscape they’re reimagining our perceptions of it. Its all about making a lasting impression so that years later when the artwork has been removed and recycled (yes for zero waste!), people visiting the landscape will still be left with an imprint of the original artwork.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin, 1971-95. Photo: Wolfgang Volz. © 1995 Christo
Perhaps their most iconic installation, the Wrapped Reichstag was the culmination of almost 20 years of petitioning by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The project was imagined up and proposed in 1971 when The Reichstag stood at the center of a divided Berlin during the Cold War. Only after the reunification of Germany and a quarter of a century of waiting later, was the project accepted. The Wrapped Reichstag was made up of more than 200,000 kilograms of steel and an overwhelming 100,000 square meters of white fabric. It was meant to fold, pleat and hang delicately over the tough stone details.
It was a controversial project to start with but became instantly popular with visitors, the white fabric somehow transforming what had been a harsh symbol of a divided Germany into something more hopeful and relatable. This effect had a lot to do with the choice of material. Fabric is the connecting link throughout Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s works. It’s a delicate and diverse material that contains an understated ability to transform the simplest environments into something new and unforgettable. In fact, the couple began to wrap objects in fabric in 1958 and have continued ever since. For the duo, the process of wrapping brings with it a new perspective. By hidings features, new ones emerge and are showcased.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Surrounded Islands, Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida, 1980-83. Photo: Wolfgang Volz. © 1983 Christo
Another iconic floating artwork is Surrounded Islands from 1983. It appeared in all its hot pink glory around 11 islands in Biscayne Bay, Miami. It was a tailor-made creation, consisting of massive pink pieces of fabric that were sewn into 79 patterns. A staggering 603 square metres of floating fabric skirts framing the coasts of green uninhabited islands. It was the very first monumental project they embarked on after they moved to New York and began selling sketches to pay for their future installations. That’s something very distinct for the pair, all the installations they do are self-funded. They don’t accept sponsorships or any money from the sale of postcards or books.
These artworks are not the result of a two-person team. Surrounding Islands had a workforce of 430 people including experts from multiple fields assisting in just getting permission for the creation to the artwork. It took almost three years to gain permission for the idea, and when it was finally realized, it represented the Miami lifestyle: caught between land and water. The most amazing element of this artwork perhaps came when it was being built. To get the coastline ready for its custom made pink skirt, the marine and land teams had to clean up the landscape. Lo and behold, by the time they were done collecting rubbish they had gathered a random collection of items, from kitchen appliances like fridge doors and sinks, to soggy mattresses and a whole abandoned boat. It was 40 tons of rubbish in total. And by the time their exhibition was concluded, and their installation dismantled, the islands were actually better off. Healthier, cleaner and a lot prettier to look at too.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Valley Curtain, Rifle, Colorado, 1970-72. Photo: Wolfgang Volz. © 1972 Christo
If you were lucky enough to be driving through the Grand Hogback Mountain Range in Colorado back in 1972, you just might have come across a massive expanse of orange. It wasn’t the sunset, it was something more all consuming and disruptive, an enormous curtain hung between Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs. Christo and Jeanne-Claude worked endlessly for months with a diverse team of helpers to create Valley Curtain. It was 381 metres long and suspended at a height of 111 metres. To keep it anchored to the ground where 417 meters of cables linked to 864 tons of concrete. But despite all this, barely 28 hours after the installation was completed, high winds forced Christo and Jeanne-Claude to take it down. All in all, the curtain was a brief interruption of an already red landscape, transforming a scenic drive through the mountains into an unforgettable experience.
Woven from bright nylon fabric, Valley Curtain was iconic, especially since it was hooked to red rock faces. When it comes to choosing locations for their installations, there are two situations that determine which site is chosen by the duo. Either they have an idea of a building or structure they want to integrate, as in the case of Wrapped Reichstag, or they have an idea for a project, but have no clue where it will be placed. That’s when the extensive scouting process begins.