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Famous For His Monumental Works Of Art, Christo Dies At 84

NOEL KING, HOST:

The artist Christo has died. Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude were ambitious with their public art projects. They built these massive installations that were both adored and also despised. Christo died of natural causes at his home in New York City yesterday. He was 84 years old. Here's NPR's Elizabeth Blair.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Artist Christo Javacheff was born in Bulgaria. His father was a chemist and businessman who worked in textiles. Christo met Jeanne-Claude in Paris in 1958. They were big dreamers who often needed years to get permission to build their projects. They wrapped urban landmarks in fabric, like the Pont-Neuf in Paris. They scattered brightly colored umbrellas across valleys in Japan and California. They surrounded islands in Biscayne Bay in floating pink fabric. Jeanne-Claude died in 2009. At an event marking the opening of the gates in 2005, she explained their artistic vision.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEANNE-CLAUDE DENAT DE GUILLEBON: We wish to create our works of art of joy and beauty. And each one is a child of ours, and we wish to create them in total freedom.

BLAIR: To maintain that freedom, Christo and Jeanne-Claude financed their projects with their own money, often spending millions of dollars. Christo said the funds came from sales of his early works to collectors and museums. Lots of people objected to their enormous installations on public land, either because they didn't understand them or worried about damage to the environment. One example - an installation that called for draping panels of fabric above sections of the Arkansas River. A group that successfully opposed the project called itself ROAR or Rags Over the Arkansas River. One of its members, Ellen Bauder, talked to NPR in 2012.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ELLEN BAUDER: I don't particularly consider it an art project. This is a construction project in my view.

BLAIR: But Christo embraced the detractors.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRISTO JAVACHEFF: All that is part of the work of art. The work of art involves everything. People who dislike or like the project, they are part of the work of art.

BLAIR: Christo and Jeanne-Claude wanted their art to transform the environment they worked on, whether it was a single building, islands or entire vistas. They wrote that even after the art is gone, we see and perceive the whole environment with new eyes and a new consciousness.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAUSCHKA'S "KINDELSBERG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.

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