• Ideas
  • remembrance

‘That Is Exactly the Kind of Confrontation You Want.’ Remembering Christo’s Artistic Power

3 minute read
JR, a 2018 TIME 100 honoree, is a photographer and artist
Eliasson is an artist and U.N. Goodwill Ambassador for climate action and the Sustainable Development Goals

After the May 31, 2020, death of the artist Christo, known for large-scale public works like The Floating Piers and Surrounded Islands, created with his late wife and partner Jeanne-Claude, TIME asked artists to reflect on his impact and legacy.

JR: Christo’s Work Asked Us to Find Our Own Way to ‘Why’

When I first saw Christo’s work, I thought, “What is this? He’s just wrapping things up? Why?” But I soon realized that is exactly the kind of confrontation you want with art: trying to make your own way to the actual answer to the question of why. To me, that’s what his work provokes.

Especially after I learned that Christo and Jeanne-Claude, his wife and artistic partner who died in 2009, stayed away from working with brands and self-­financed many of their projects, I loved to be compared to him. When I had the chance to meet Christo—who died May 31 at 84—in New York City at his studio, I remember how focused he was. I loved being around his energy, and the time he gave me was everything to me. He told me that his projects existed through his conversations about them with others; that’s what mattered so much to him.

I think people should remember him for his vision, which went on for decades, and take inspiration from the dedication he and Jeanne-Claude showed to their work.

Olafur Eliasson: Christo and Jeanne-Claude ‘Re-Humanized Our Surroundings’

In 1995, I experienced the Reichstag in the process of being clad. Even though Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s art was familiar to me from books, I found their one-to-one scale work with the city of Berlin utterly compelling. Their use of real life as a canvas for artistic statement-making was incredibly inspiring and liberating. It emphasized the possibility of public space as a place that everyone co-owns and co-creates with their gaze and their engagement. A building as iconic as the Reichstag, anchored solidly in the complexity of the German history, was reframed and, for me, became a contemporary building — as if the colossal had suddenly been allowed to travel through time to meet up with me today.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude re-humanized our surroundings by exposing them to us. In their artistic work, we not only meet up with the artwork: we also meet up with ourselves. Christo will be missed.

A portion of this story appears in the June 15, 2020, issue of TIME

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.