The epic artist who reimagined landmarks

Christo created art on a truly monumental scale. Together with his wife, Jeanne-Claude—the couple went by their first names—the Bulgarian-born artist dreamed up outdoor works that took years to plan, millions of dollars to create, and hundreds of workers to erect, but which lasted only a few weeks. For 1983’s Surrounded Islands, the pair dressed 11 islands off Miami with bright pink polypropylene skirts, making them look like exotic flowers. For 1991’s The Umbrellas, 3,100 blue and yellow umbrellas—each the size of a small house—were planted in two valleys in Japan and Cali for nia. Their ambition reached its apogee on June 24, 1995, when 50 rock climbers rappelled down the Reichstag and covered the German parliament building in 1,076,390 square feet of silver fabric. Wrapped Reichstag was up for two weeks. “It takes much greater courage to create things to be gone,” Christo said, “than to create things that will remain.”

Christo Javacheff was born in Communistcontrolled Bulgaria to a father who “ran a state fabric company” and a mother who worked at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sofia, said The Guardian (U.K.). At age 17, Christo enrolled at the academy; for one propaganda assignment, he was tasked with advising farmers along the route of the Orient Express to arrange their haystacks in a manner that suggested productivity and prosperity. Seeing no future in Eastern Europe, he fled west, arriving in Paris in 1958, said The New York Times. “There he met Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon, his future wife,” while painting a portrait of her mother. For their first big project together, Christo and Jeanne-Claude “stacked oil drums and a wrapped Renault car” inside a Cologne gallery in 1961. Three years later, the couple moved to New York City, spending their first three years there as illegal immigrants.

“Decades could pass between their initial idea and the ultimate execution,” said The Wall Street Journal. Christo first sketched plans for Wrapped Reichstag in 1971, then spent the next 24 years lobbying German lawmakers to make it happen. After his wife’s death in 2009, Christo continued to work on a piece they’d conceived in 1962, wrapping the Arc de Triomphe in Paris in silverblue fabric and red rope. “The project is on track for Sept. 18–Oct. 3, 2021.”