While many artists were busy bringing their imagination to life with canvases, easels and paintbrushes, one sought to dream even bigger than anyone could even begin to imagine.
Bulgarian-born artist Christo Vladimirov Javacheff (better known simply as Christo) wasn’t interested in the sterile white walls of the Met or MoMA. Instead, he and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, turned the entire world into a giant art gallery with near-impossible installations, transforming the way people looked and felt about their surroundings in the process.
The 84-year-old visionary might have just passed away of natural causes in his home in New York, but his work will forever live on in memories all over the world. After all, it’s not possible to simply forget strolling across Lake Iseo on 100,000 square metres of bright yellow fabric, nor is seeing Berlin’s historic edifice, The Reichstag, completely swathed in blue material.
Those who’s had the great fortune of seeing — and experiencing — his grand projects in person can testify to the enormous wonders his childlike belief, persistence, charm have given birth to. Born on 13 June 1935 into a prominent family in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, Christo always showed an interest in art as a child, and went on to study at the Fine Arts Academy in Sofia. Because the country was under Communist control, one of his propaganda assignments was to advise farmers along the Orient Express route to arrange their haystacks and machinery to give the illusion of bustling activity. It was there where he learnt about working in open spaces and collaborating with people outside of his field.
After moving to Paris with his wife, Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon, the duo dabbled in provocative works that critiqued capitalism and packaging, but Christo dreamt beyond guerrilla political installations; he wanted to wrap buildings and whole environments. In 1969, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago agreed to be sheathed in his creative vision. Later that year, he wrapped a million square feet of Sydney’s coastline in erosion-control fabric with the help of 15 professional climbers and 110 workers.
Jeanne-Claude might’ve passed away in 2009, but Christo was set on realising their collective vision. In London’s Hyde Park, the usual tranquility of Lake Serpentine was interrupted by a floating mastaba formed by 300,000 boldly-coloured oil drums in 2018. His epic showmanship even extended to North America, where he transformed landmarks in Colorado, Miami, and New York City into works of art.
His million-dollar installations — all self-funded via sales of his original drawings — have been stalled by bureaucracy and political red-tape countless times, but his artful draping and perception-altering experiences always found their way back into urban landscapes.
The late artist leaves behind one of his biggest dreams yet: to wrap the Arc de Triomphe. The project —which is still on track to be completed by 18 September 2021— was first conceived while he was living in Paris in 1962. His opportunity came when the Centre Pompidou invited him to create an installation to coincide with a new exhibition, to which he boldly replied “I will not do anything in Paris except wrap the Arc de Triomphe.” When it’s up, people will have the chance to walk on and touch the blue and silver fabrics and red rope that cover the grand monument.
This article was first published on LifestyleAsia