Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 1 October 2020

Artist Christo, who wanted to build the world's largest sculpture in the UAE, dies aged 84

Bulgarian-born artist made his name transforming landmarks by covering them with reams of cloth

The artist known as Christo, who dreamed of building the world’s largest sculpture in the UAE, died on Sunday aged 84.

Christo Vladimirov Javacheff died of natural causes at his home in New York City, his official Facebook page announced.

The Bulgarian-born artist worked in collaboration with his wife of 51 years, Jeanne-Claude, until her death in 2009. He made his name transforming landmarks such as Germany's Reichstag, by covering them with reams of cloth.

Their large-scale productions would take years of preparation and were costly to erect; but they were mostly ephemeral, coming down after just weeks or months.

The couple had planned to make the largest and most expensive sculpture ever created – the UAE Mastaba in the Liwa desert in Abu Dhabi. It was planned to resemble a smaller Mastaba in London they made from 7,506 barrels.

Scroll through the gallery below to see more of Christo's works around the globe:

The ambitious UAE project had been planned since 1977 and it had intended to be a sculpture made from 410,000 oil barrels. It was planned to tower 150 metres high – a few metres taller than the Great Pyramid of Giza – but it was never realised in his lifetime.

“You can see a photo of me and Jeanne-Claude in the exhibition collecting sand in Abu Dhabi to use for the model,” Christo told The National in 2018. “We knew exactly how we wanted to build the project in the Middle East.”

FILE PHOTO: A woman photographs swimmers exercising in the Serpentine River in front of Christo's "The London Mastaba", in Hyde Park, London, Britain, June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo
Christo's 'The London Mastaba' in Hyde Park in 2018. Reuters

The word mastaba means “mud bench” in Arabic, a place for sitting and conversation originating from the historical region of Mesopotamia. Jeanne-Claude and Christo came across the form before the first Abu Dhabi visit and made unrealised plans to build mastabas on Lake Michigan and Texas.

Before his wife’s death, the pair made numerous trips to Abu Dhabi together, talking to rulers, dignitaries, students and school children. Christo established The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award in 2012 to nurture artistic talent in the region.

"Christo lived his life to the fullest, not only dreaming up what seemed impossible but realising it," said a statement from his office.

"Christo and Jeanne-Claude's artwork brought people together in shared experiences across the globe, and their work lives on in our hearts and memories."

In accordance with Christo's wishes, the statement added, another work in progress, L'Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, would be completed. The event is on schedule to be shown from September 18 in 2021.

Born on June 13, 1935 in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, Christo left his home country in 1957, living in several countries before arriving in Paris, where he met his future wife.

Next year's work in Paris will be accompanied by an exhibition at the city's Pompidou Centre about their time in the city. The show was due to start in July this year, running through until the end of October 2021.

A statement sent to AFP by the Pompidou Centre on Sunday paid tribute to the artist as an "enchanter", who was "essential to the history of art of our time".

Christo was a great artist, capable of giving new depth to our everyday

Serge Lasvignes, president of the Pompidou Centre

"Christo was a great artist, capable of giving new depth to our everyday," said the Pompidou Centre's president, Serge Lasvignes.

The centre's director, Bernard Blistene, said they had worked "passionately" with Christo's team to put the exhibition together in parallel with the Arc de Triomphe project.

"Let the exhibition that we will be opening on July 1 pay tribute to this exceptional body of work, bestriding all disciplines and so essential to the history of art of our time," he added.

The exhibition will focus on the time Christo and his wife spent in Paris, 1958 to 1964, during which they developed they signature style.

As well as the German Reichstag, another of their major projects was wrapping the Pont Neuf, Paris's oldest bridge, in 1985.

Sunday's statement from Christo's office concluded: "In a 1958 letter Christo wrote, 'Beauty, science and art will always triumph'. We hold those words closely today."

Updated: June 1, 2020 11:23 AM

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