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Art & Culture

Monumental Abstraction: The Legacy of Christo’s Environmental Art

By June 5, 2020August 27th, 2020No Comments
©Christo and Jeanne-Claude, photo by Wolfgang Volz

Landscape transforming artworks by the late artist Christo leave an unforgettable impact about pressing environmental issues through visual memory and rethinking our sense of scale.

Artist Christo Javacheff, known as Christo, who passed away last month was celebrated as the artist who ‘wrapped the world’. He left us with an unforgettable legacy of his large, visually impressive, and controversial site-specific environmental installations.  

Fascinated with wrapping objects, buildings, and even whole coastlines, his works involve years and sometimes decades of careful preparation – including technical solutions, political negotiations, legal and environmental approvals. He worked with his wife, Jeanne-Claude, until her death in 2009 when he pursued their planned projects working solo but still under their joint name. The pair refused grants, scholarships, donations or public money, and instead financed the work via the sale of their own artwork.  

One of his relatively recent works was the London Mastaba in 2018, a floating installation consisting of 7,506 oil barrels, in the shape of an early bench from ancient Mesopotamia. The temporary installation exhibited on The Serpentine in London is only a smaller version of a work in progress, a much bigger Mastaba consisting of over 400,000 multicoloured oil barrels intended to be built near Abu Dhabi, the work which began in the 70’s is set to continue after Christo’s death.  

Amongst his earliest and most notable works is Wrapped Coast in 1969, an environmental artwork in which Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped a portion of Sydney’s Little Bay in plastic fabric. His other works include wrapping Pont Neuf bridge in Paris, and wrapping Berlin’s Reichstag building in 1995 which became symbolic of unified Germany.  

Christo always said his projects contained no more profound meaning than their immediate aesthetic impact; where the identity of his works is essentially in the permitting process. Yet, their unforgettable legacy in seeing the unfamiliar and overturn our sense of scale and unwrap pressing environmental issues we tend to oversee.  

“I don’t have any artworks that exist? They all go away when they’re finished. Only the preparatory drawings and collages are left, giving my works an almost legendary character. I think it takes much greater courage to create things to be gone than to create things that will remain.”