JEANNE-CLAUDE DENAT DE GUILLEBON by WILLIAM GRIMES/New York Times
November 19, 2009
Jeanne-Claude, who collaborated with her husband, Christo, on dozens of environmental art projects, notably the wrapping of the Pont Neuf in Paris and the Reichstag in Berlin and the installation of 7,503 vinyl gates with saffron-colored nylon panels in Central Park, died Wednesday in Manhattan, where she lived. She was 74.
A statement on Christo and Jeanne-Claude Web site reads:
Excerpt from Statement:
Jeanne-Claude, 74, American artist and resident of New York City, died suddenly November 18, 2009 as a result of of complications due to a ruptured brain aneurysm.
Jeanne-Claude met her husband, Christo Javacheff, in Paris in 1958. At the time, Christo, a Bulgarian refugee, was already making art of wrapped packages, furniture and oil drums. Three years later, they made their first work together, a temporary installation on the docks in Cologne, Germany, that consisted of oil drums and rolls of industrial paper wrapped in tarpaulin.
To avoid confusing dealers and the public, and to establish an artistic brand, they used only Christo's name. In 1994 they retroactively applied the joint name "Christo and Jeanne-Claude" to all outdoor works and large-scale temporary indoor installations. Other works were credited to Christo alone.
Their collaborative approach, as described on their Web site, remained constant throughout the years. After he and his wife conceived an idea for a project, Christo made drawings, scale models and other preparatory works that were sold to finance the final project. With the help of paid assistants, they then did the on-site work: wrapping buildings, trees, walls or bridges; erecting umbrellas ("The Umbrellas," 1991); spreading pink fabric around 11 islands in Biscayne Bay near Miami ("Surrounded Islands" 1983).
"We want to create works of art of joy and beauty, which we will build because we believe it will be beautiful," Jeanne-Claude said in a 2002 interview. "The only way to see it is to build it. Like every artist, every true artist, we create them for us."
Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon was born on June 13, 1935, in Casablanca, where her father, a French army officer, was stationed. After attending schools in France and Switzerland, she earned a baccalaureate in Latin and philosophy in 1952 from the University of Tunis.
In addition to her husband, she is survived by their son, Cyril Christo of Santa Fe, N.M.
In 1962, Christo and Jeanne-Claude caused a sensation when, in response to the building of the Berlin Wall, they blocked the tiny Rue Visconti in Paris with a barricade of oil drums. Jeanne-Claude managed to stall the police as they closed in, arguing that the work, "Wall of Oil Barrels, Iron Curtain" should stay in place a few hours more.
Jeanne-Claude and Christo moved to New York in 1964 and embarked on grander, more theatrical projects. Nothing, it seemed, was too large to be shrouded in fabric. In the late 1960s, they wrapped the Kunsthalle in Bern, Switzerland, just one of many buildings, walls and statues to come. In 1969 they wrapped a million square feet of coastline near Sydney, Australia.
Although wrapping remained the couple's signature, they staged other environmental projects and public displays. At the Documenta exhibition in Kassel, Germany, in 1968, they erected, with the assistance of two giant cranes, an inflated cylindrical fabric "package," in appearance a bit like a stretched-out Michelin Man, that stood nearly 280 feet tall.
The projects became communal events, during construction and after. Millions of viewers were attracted to "The Umbrellas" installed simultaneously in 1991 in Ibaraki, Japan, and at the Tejon Ranch in Southern California. "The Gates," a series of flapping bannerlike panels installed in Central Park in 2005, also attracted more than five million viewers during the two weeks that the work lasted.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, in a statement released Thursday, praised "The Gates" as “one of the most exciting public art projects ever put on anywhere in the world — and it would never have happened without Jeanne-Claude.
The couple often had to overcome stiff resistance to their projects from municipal officials and citizens worried at the possible environmental impact of their work. Some critics dismissed their work as a repetitive series of stunts devoid of intellectual content. More often than not, however, the projects, once in place, turned out to be enormously popular.
Before Jeanne-Claude's death, she and Christo were at work on two longstanding projects: "Over the River" a series of fabric panels to be suspended over the Arkansas River in Colorado, and "The Mastaba" a stack of 410,000 oil barrels configured as a mastaba, or truncated rectangular pyramid, envisioned for the United Arab Emirates.
Like all of their projects, these were intended to be temporary. Whether executed in oil drum or brightly colored fabric, the art of her and her husband, Jeanne-Claude said, expressed "the quality of love and tenderness that we human beings have for what does not last".