In Memoriam: Christo, 1935–2020

June 1, 2020

Christo, 1935–2020 (Born Gabrovo, Bulgaria)
Jeanne-Claude, 1935–2009 (Born Casablanca, Morocco)

The artist Christo, who died on May 31, 2020, was a pioneer in the field of monumental installation art. He worked in partnership with his wife Jeanne-Claude from 1961 until her death in 2009, and the two of them succeeded in creating works that, despite their ephemeral nature, have had a lasting impact on the public consciousness.

Whether erecting Running Fence (1976), which rippled for miles through Northern California; encircling eleven islands with buoyant pink material for Surrounded Islands (1983) in Biscayne Bay, near Miami; or wrapping Berlin’s Reichstag in silver fabric (1995), Christo and Jeanne-Claude inspired viewers to experience both natural and built environments in new ways. They often spent several years in the planning stages, as they did for The Umbrellas (1991), a project for which they opened more than three thousand umbrellas, in unison, in the United States and Japan. By placing 1,760 yellow umbrellas outside Los Angeles and 1,340 blue umbrellas outside Tokyo, Christo and Jeanne-Claude offered a shared experience as a way to bridge two distant countries.

In this photograph by their longtime friend and exclusive photographer Wolfgang Volz, the artists stand in front of one of their most celebrated projects, The Gates. First conceived in 1979, the installation comprising more than 7,500 banner-like saffron panels was presented in New York City’s Central Park in February 2005.

Reflecting on past works during the run of The Gates, Christo explained, “The important thing to understand is that all of our projects have a nomadic quality, things in transition, going away, they will be gone forever. And this quality is an essential part of all our work. They are airy—not heavy like stone, steel, or concrete blocks. They are passing through.”

Man and woman standing under bright orange banners
Christo and Jeanne-Claude by Wolfgang Volz / 2005 (printed 2009), Digital pigment print / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the photographer / © Wolfgang Volz