L'Arc de Triomphe, wrapped by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, 2021
They made an unlikely couple: the penniless Bulgarian refugee and the French debutante. But Christo Javacheff and Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon (better known as Christo and Jeanne-Claude) were married for almost 50 years, during which time they produced some of the most surprising, enigmatic, controversial, and beautiful works of public art ever created—in 19 cities and eight countries on four continents.
From their New York City apartment, the couple initiated temporary, site-specific projects that were nearly impossible to accomplish, each using acres of colorful fabric to cover an entire building, line a path, or surround islands. By design, these undertakings involved many different groups of people--professional ironworkers, seamstresses, politicians, lawyers, and scientists, all grappling with complex philosophical, ethical, and aesthetic issues. Projects took years, or even decades, to come to fruition, and some were never realized. Yet Christo and Jeanne-Claude insisted that their works should remain in place for a maximum of only two weeks.
Reactions to Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s projects followed a predictable trajectory: loud complaints, when they were first announced; grudging acceptance, as the artworks began to take shape; and, finally, excitement and pride, once local residents began to see their surroundings with new eyes—and enjoy the financial and social benefits of increased tourism.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s finished pieces were always intended to be ephemeral and, sadly, both artists have died (Jeanne-Claude in 2009, Christo in 2020). However, their influence remains strong, aided by displays of Christo’s masterful preparatory drawings plus a series of award-winning documentary films about the couple and their work.
In this richly illustrated lecture, art historian Nancy G. Heller analyzes the most important projects of Christo and Jeanne-Claude and explains their significance in the history of contemporary art.
Heller is a professor emerita at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1/2 credit*
*Enrolled participants in the World Art History Certificate Program receive 1/2 elective credit. Not yet enrolled? Learn about the program, its benefits, and how to register here.