Bulgarian conceptual artist Christo passed away this past Sunday at the age of 84. According to the New York Times he died at his home New York City home and no cause of death was given.
Christo’s singular aesthetic vision and art were on a truly epic scale. The environment, natural and human-made, was his canvas, whereupon he wrapped or surrounded whole buildings, bridges and even islands with fabric or dotted the landscape with thousands of bright monochromatic gates and umbrellas.
It was his wrapping of the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris in the early 1980s that captured my imagination as a kid — The very notion of turning a massive piece of urban infrastructure into a work of conceptual art was mind-blowing to me in my youth and re-framed for me the idea of what art was or could be.
A decade later I was old enough — and lucky enough — to visit one of Christo’s massive major works right in my own backyard of Southern California. The project was called the Umbrellas. Thousands of giant yellow parasols were set up across the rolling mountains that straddle Interstate 5 near the Tejon Pass north of Los Angeles, while simultaneously blue umbrellas were set up across a semi-rural mountainous area south of Tokyo. I visited the California installation several times, as it was about an hour drive from my parent’s home in L.A. It was an aesthetic thrill.
Among Christo’s more famous and iconic projects are the aforementioned Pont Neuf wrapping and the wrapping of the Reichstag, the giant 19th-Century parliamentary building in Berlin, which at the time had sat severely damaged and disused for nearly five decades and stood only a few feet away from the Berlin Wall on its west side.
More recently, in the 2000s, he created the Gates in New York City’s Central Park. I was living in downtown Manhattan at the time and so again was able to easily experience the artwork several times. In 2016 his project the Floating Piers, a network of several connecting golden-colored, buoyant walkways, came to life on a lake in northern Italy, where visitors could “walk on water” out to an island.
While scale, context, and color were together part of what made Christo’s work so alluring, compelling and impressive, it was also that it was ephemeral. These installations would exist for only a few weeks. And then –poof! — it was gone. You had to be there or you’d never see it again, at least not in person. Rest in peace, Christo.