Christo Was His Name, Wrapping Was His Game

By: Carrie Tatro  | 

Christo
The monumental wrapping of the Arc de Triomphe by the late artist Christo is seen on the night of Sept. 13, 2021, in Paris, France. Chesnot/Getty Images

Mountains. Iconic bridges. Public buildings and historical monuments. Floating piers. Islands and coastlines. These are just a few of the massive environmental structures and natural spaces the late Bulgarian-born conceptual artist, Christo Vladimirov Javacheff, known worldwide simply as Christo, wrapped or festooned with fabric to create colossal, gob-smacking, temporary wonders of the world.

Never without controversy and resistance, Christo's epic-scale projects — all of them designed to be short-lived — were no small feat to be realized. Bringing his visions to life often took decades, requiring the cooperation and collaboration of countless landowners, government agencies, judges, environmental organizations, local citizens, architects, engineers and laborers — many of whom had a tentative interest at best in the outlandish art installations of an enigmatic man with one name whose creative fetish could play havoc with their environs.

Christo
Christo with his wife and creative partner, Jeanne-Claude, in front of a draft of the veiled Reichstag in Germany, July, 1995.
Weychardt/ullstein bild/Getty Images

Nevertheless, Christo persisted. And with his wife and co-artist, Jeanne-Claude, (who also used only her first name) at his side throughout, over and over again, Christo prevailed.

Once the vision in his mind's eye was executed on paper, Christo enjoyed the process of lobbying and rallying for his cause, telling The New York Times in 1972, "For me esthetics is everything involved in the process — the workers, the politics, the negotiations, the construction difficulty, the dealings with hundreds of people. The whole process becomes an esthetic — that's what I'm interested in, discovering the process. I put myself in dialogue with other people."

Here are six of Christo's most iconic installations:

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1. "L'Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped," Paris, 2021

Christo
The monumental Arc de Triomphe installation wraps the famous French landmark in silver-blue fabric.
Siegfried Modola/Getty Images

Christo's "dialogue" currently continues posthumously with the completion of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Conceived in 1961, the exhibition is on view for 16 days from Sept. 18 to Oct. 3, 2021. The Arc is wrapped in 269,090 square feet (25,000 square meters) of recyclable polypropylene fabric in silvery blue, and 9,842 feet (3,000 meters) of red rope.

2. "The Floating Piers," Lake Iseo, Italy, 2016

Christo
Some 200,000 floating cubes made up the installation entitled "The Floating Piers" on Lake Iseo in Italy, in June, 2016.
MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images

From June 18 to July 3, 2016, visitors to Italy's Lake Iseo could almost literally walk on water courtesy of "The Floating Piers." The installation was made of almost 2 miles (3 kilometers) of glistening yellow fabric, carried by a modular dock system comprised of 220,000 high-density polyethylene cubes floating atop the water's surface.

3. "The Gates," Central Park, New York City, 2005

Christo
"The Gates" was a huge hit in New York City's Central Park in 2005.
joiseyshowaa/Flickr/Getty Images (CC BY-SA 2.0)

"The Gates" in New York's Central Park was completed in February, 2005. Made of 7,503 gates adorned with saffron colored free-hanging panels, the installation was reminiscent of a gleaming tributary wending its way through the bare tree branches.

4. "Wrapped Reichstag," Berlin, 1995

Christo
"Wrapped Reichstag" was finally a reality in 1995 after three decades of governmental red tape.
Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

After a wrestling match that spanned three decades, the Reichstag was finally wrapped in June, 1995. For two weeks, the 19th-century building that houses Germany's lower house of parliament was cloaked with metallic-like silver fabric cinched by blue ropes that highlighted the contours of the formidable edifice.

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5. "The Umbrellas," California and Japan, 1991

Christo
Christo with his blue umbrellas in Ibaraki, Japan in October, 1991.
Kurita KAKU/Getty Images

An installation realized simultaneously in the U.S. and Japan, "The Umbrellas" reflected the differences and similarities in land use and way of life in two inland valleys on separate continents. Christo and Jeanne-Claude raised 3,100 yellow and blue umbrellas in California and Japan, respectively. The installation project cost $26 million and attracted some 3 million visitors.

6. "The Pont Neuf Wrapped," Paris, 1985

Christo
This photo, taken on Sept. 22, 1985, in Paris, shows the wrapped Pont Neuf at night.
PIERRE GUILLAUD/Getty Images

For this 1985 environmental project, Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped the oldest bridge in Paris, the Pont Neuf, in 450,000 square feet (41,806 square meters) of a warmish amber colored woven polyamide fabric. Ephemeral and fleeting, like all of Christo's works, the installation lasted just 14 days and exists today only in photographs.

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