Together, artist duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude revolutionized the scale and scope of public art. Born Christo Javacheff and Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon, they dreamt big and realized a number of art history’s largest and most audacious works. As early as 1968, when they were in their mid-thirties, the two artists began to carve a place for themselves in the canon when they wrapped the entire building that housed Switzerland’s Kunsthalle Bern in 26,156 square feet of plastic. The project left the art world awestruck and set the tone for the pair’s ambitious career to follow.
Highlights have included Surrounded Islands (1980-1983), for which they encircled 11 islands off the coast of Miami with 6.5 million square feet of pink polypropylene, and Running Fence (1972-1976), a 24.5-mile-long installation of white nylon that stretched across a swathe of Northern California. Like most of their work, these projects not only represented a stunning marriage of art and the environment, but also complex logistical and community-building feats. Running Fence, for instance, was the result of 42 months of work that included conversations with ranchers who owned Northern California land, 18 public hearings, and three sessions at the Superior Courts of California.
Though Jeanne-Claude passed away in 2009, Christo has forged on, making it his mission to see through several of their unrealized dream projects. One, which the duo began plotting in 1970, became a reality this year. The Floating Piers
as the work is named, drew over 1.2 million people to Italy’s remote Lake Iseo, allowing visitors to walk on water across a saffron orange, three-kilometer-long floating walkway. “The Floating Piers
turned a fantasy into reality,” says Public Art Fund
’s director and chief curator, Nicholas Baume. “The richness and expanse of the fabric color, and the interaction with the light and the water, all created a remarkable sensory and perceptual experience for visitors.” A bird’s-eye view of the project, which showed countless dots moving across the shimmering pathway, revealed the unique power of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s work—to illuminate the beauty of the artwork’s natural setting, and bring people together in the process.