Project for a Temporary Wall of Oil Drums Rue Visconti Paris VI, 1961
Mixed media collage
11.8 x 19.1 in.
b. 1935, Gabrovo, Bulgaria
d. 2020, New York, United States
Christo Javacheff was a conceptual artist, best known for his large-scale environmental works completed in collaboration with his partner Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon. Born in Bulgaria, he took painting and drawing lessons as a child and went on to study at the Fine Arts Academy in Sofia. In 1956, while studying and working at the avant-garde Burian Theater in Prague, Soviet forces crushed the Hungarian uprising. Seeing no future in Eastern Europe, he escaped to Vienna, hiding in a freight car loaded with medical supplies. He studied for a semester at Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts, later moving to Geneva and eventually, in 1958, to Paris. Christo supported himself by painting portraits, where he met Jeanne-Claude while painting a portrait of her mother.
Christo's first artworks consisted of appropriated everyday objects such as bottles, cans, furniture, and oil drums wrapped in canvas, bundled in twine, and occasionally overlaid with automobile paint. As part of his first solo exhibition at Galerie Haro Lauhus in Cologne in 1961, he stacked oil drums and a wrapped Renault car inside the gallery and nearby, on the docks, he arranged mysterious wrapped objects that he called “Dockside Packages.” The following year, he staged “Iron Curtain: Wall of Oil Carrels,” in which 204 stacked oil barrels blocked off the Rue Visconti in Paris. After two of his wrapped “Packages” from 1961 were included in the “New Realists” show at the Sidney Janis Gallery in Manhattan in 1962, he and Jeanne-Claude emigrated to the United States.
While the couple originally worked under the name “Christo,” in 1994 the retroactively credited their works to both “Christo and Jeanne-Claude.” The duo became known for their monumental environmental installations and interventions that often involved the wrapping of architecture and natural elements in fabric. Their work often took years of careful preparation – including technical solutions, political negotiation, permitting, and environmental approval, hearings, and public persuasion. The pair refused grants, scholarships, donations, or public money, instead financing the work via the sale of their own artwork. Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s works are held in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Musée d’art modern et d’art contemporain in Nice, and the Cleveland Museum of Art, among others.