Who are Christo and Jeanne-Claude?
Christo was born Christo Vladimirov Yavashev on 13 June 1935 in Gabrovo, Bulgaria. Supported by his mother, who worked at the National Academy of Art in Sofia, Christo attended painting and drawing classes at the age of six. In 1953, Christo began studying at the National Academy of Art. His studies were influenced by socialist realism; Christo did not come into contact with western modern art. In 1965, while visiting relatives in Prague, he discovered Picasso and Miró. When the Hungarian Revolution broke out shortly afterwards, Christo fled first to Vienna and then on to Switzerland. In 1958, Paris became his new home, where he met Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon. Jeanne-Claude, also born on 13 June 1935 (in Casablanca), became not only his wife but also his partner in creating monumental works of environmental art. The artist couple achieved world fame through their wrapping actions of buildings and famous structures as well as large-scale projects in landscape spaces. Jeanne-Claude passed away in 2009 and Christo died on 31 May 2020 in New York City, where he had lived for 56 years.
What is Christo and Jeanne-Claude's first work together?
In July 1961, Christo's first solo exhibition opened at the Haro Lauhus Gallery in Cologne. At the same time, Christo and Jeanne-Claude presented their first joint project in Cologne harbour: "Dockside Packages and Stacked Oil Barrels". The paper rolls and oil barrels, wrapped in tarpaulins and ropes, also represented the artist couple's first temporary outdoor environmental artwork. From then on, the two created some of the most impressive installations of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. With their monumental working methods of wrapping fabric around buildings or landmarks, they focused on transience and invite the viewer to participate in interacting with the work.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Representatives of the "New REalism
Christo gained fame above all after he joined the The artist joined the "Nouveau Réalisme" ("New Realism") group founded by Pierre Restany and Yves Klein in Paris. Christo participated in the group's exhibitions but never became an official member.
A mantra of the Nouveaux Réalistes was: to give form to the systems and processes of everyday life by foregrounding everyday life itself; an endeavour vividly realised in Christo's "wrapped" objects, which encourage people to look again and reassess the things that surround them.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude in the "25 Years" exhibition at MUCA Munich
The artworks on display in the MUCA anniversary exhibition (06.10.2022-10.09.2023) illustrate both the process and concept behind the couple's work. "Puerta de Alcala, Wrapped Project for Madrid" foreshadows the planning of potential projects, while the wrapped magazine acts as a microcosm for the overall conception of their work and also references the principles of New Realism in relation to advertising and the use of everyday objects.
The 25-Years exhibition included the work "Look Magazine" from 1965.
What are Christo and Jeanne-Claude's most famous works?
From early wrapped objects, such as the wrapped magazine in the current MUCA exhibition, to monumental outdoor projects all over the world: Christo and Jeanne-Claude's artworks always crossed the traditional boundaries of painting, sculpture and architecture. As one of their first large "wrapped" works, the two covered the Bern Kunsthalle in 1967/68. In Germany, the artist couple became popular especially through their wrapping of the Reichstag building in Berlin in the year. Already in the planning stages since the early 1970s, the building in the German capital was wrapped in silver fabric for a fortnight in 1995.
In addition to wrapping famous public buildings, Christo and Jeanne-Claude also made a name for themselves with many projects in landscape spaces: In 2005, the installation "The Gates" in Central Park in New York was completed and presented to the public: Over 7,500 gates with freely hanging saffron-coloured fabric panels that looked like a golden river in the overall picture. In October 1991, 3,100 umbrellas installed in the landscape were opened simultaneously in the USA and Japan for the temporary project "The Umbrellas" (in planning since 1984). This work of art was intended to reflect the similarities as well as differences in lifestyle and land use in two inland valleys of the respective countries. Other major projects by Christo and Jeanne-Claude included "Wrapped Coast" near Sydney (1968-69), "Valley Curtain" in Colorado (1970-72), "Running Fence" in California (1972-76), "Surrounded Islands" in Miami (1980-83), "The Pont Neuf Wrapped" in Paris (1975-85), and "The Floating Piers" on Lake Iseo in Italy (2014-16).
In autumn 2021, a good year after Christo's death, the artist couple's heartfelt project, "L'Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped", could be realised in Paris. Christo, who had been attracted to the monument since his arrival in Paris, had already created a photomontage of the wrapped Arc de Triomphe in 1962, then a collage in 1988.