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Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Surrounded Islands
40+ Years of a Monumental Art Project


Christo Vladimirov Javacheff (Bulgaria, 1935-2020) and Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon (Morocco, 1935-2009), also known as Christo and Jeanne-Claude, were an internationally renowned married couple of visual artists, known for their temporal, monumental large-scale environmental artworks, often involving the wrapping of landmarks, buildings and landscapes. From the Running Fence covering the valley in the Tejon Ranch in California, The Umbrellas spread in Ibaraki, Japan, and California to wrapping the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris, France, Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s style has been described as site-specific and ephemeral, with installations designed to interact uniquely with the surrounding environment without leaving a trace. Throughout their joint career, the couple faced numerous challenges, including bureaucratic hurdles, financial constraints and opposition from critics. However, their persistence and dedication to their vision allowed them to create some of the most ambitious and iconic art projects of the 20th century.

In Miami-Dade County, their most iconic and majestic work came to life on May 7, 1983, titled Surrounded Islands. This artistic piece spanned across 11 islands in Miami’s Biscayne Bay and covered 6.5 million square feet of ocean waters with pink woven polypropylene fabric, extending 200 feet from each island, sewn into 79 patterns to match each island’s contours.

Preparation for Surrounded Islands began in April 1981, involving a diverse team of craftsmen who cleared 40 tons of debris within two years and obtained dozens of permits to make this remarkable art piece a reality. Financed solely by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the vibrant pink installation was unfurled by a crew of 430 individuals, many of whom were volunteers, engineers, scientists and lawyers. The intricate floating art pieces took three days to install.  Once complete, thousands of tourists and Miami-Dade County residents marveled at the spectacle for two weeks from various vantage points, including from causeways and land, boat and air tours.

Surrounded Islands was more than just an aesthetic spectacle; it was a statement about the relationship between art, nature and the urban environment. By transforming these seemingly insignificant islands into works of art, Christo and Jeanne-Claude drew attention to the beauty and fragility of Miami’s Biscayne Bay, encouraging viewers to reevaluate their perceptions of the landscape around them.

In support of the project, the Miami-Dade Public Library System hosted an exhibition titled Christo: Surrounded Islands, Project for Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida, which included a small-scale maquette of the project, preliminary drawings and photographs of the installation process, and featured exclusive images by photographer Wolfgang Volz.

Two men looking at a sculpture

Christo with Library Director Edward Sintz

Gallery room full of people

Jeanne-Claude with visitors

Christo: Surrounded Islands, Project for Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida. Documentation Exhibition, 1983

Today, the Library's Vasari Project archive serves as a repository of significant documentation for this 41-year-old project. It includes unique memorabilia, such as a check for one dollar signed by Christo as a token of gratitude to volunteers, project invitations, letters and even samples of the construction materials.

Square of pink fabric
A nail and two washers
Wooden nail and string

Samples of materials used in Surrounded Islands: pink-woven polypropylene fabric, nail through washer and wooden nails and string.

To learn more about Surrounded Islands and other projects from Christo and Jeanne-Claude, click here.