The Vilcek Foundation Mourns Passing of Jeanne-Claude

Jeanne-Claude, recipient with her husband, Christo, of the first Vilcek Prize in the Arts and Humanities, died November 18 in New York, at age 74, from complications of a brain aneurysm. Jeanne-Claude and Christo are known internationally as the co-creators of such large-scale public artworks as The Gates, installed in New York’s Central Park for two weeks in 2005, and viewed by more than four million visitors. Though early in their careers the couple agreed that Christo would be presented as the lead artist on their projects, Jeanne-Claude was a standout wherever she went, her signature bright red-orange hair always rising above any crowd. More privately, she was also known for her generous spirit and seemingly boundless energy.

Rick Kinsel, Executive Director of the Vilcek Foundation, said, “We at the Foundation asked quite a lot of Jeanne-Claude and Christo over the years, and they never, ever, said no. Jeanne-Claude was always there for us, whether to mentor a young immigrant artist or, simply, to lend her dynamic presence to one of our events. Although she was very critical and demanding, she was also genuinely warm and charitable. She was a gem, and we will miss her.”

Jan Vilcek, President of the Vilcek Foundation, said, “The passing of Jeanne-Claude is a great loss for the art world, for the Vilcek Foundation, for my wife, Marica and me personally. All of us extend our condolences to Christo. We are confident he will see to it that his and Jeanne-Claude’s unfinished joint work will be brought to a successful completion.”

A native of Casablanca, Morocco, Jeanne-Claude was born Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon on June 13, 1935, to a French military family, and educated in France and Switzerland. She graduated from the University of Tunis with a degree in Latin and philosophy. At the time of her death, she and Christo were at work on two installations, Over the River: Project for the Arkansas River, State of Colorado, and The Mastaba a project in the United Arab Emirates. Christo says he intends to complete those works and others the couple had planned.

  • A Message from Jan and Marica Vilcek

    Our founders arrived as penniless refugees over fifty years ago, but with the kindness and opportunity they received in the United States, they went on to accomplish great things in biomedical science and art history. Read their statement on the recent executive order imposing a travel ban.