Biographical / Historical
Burt Chernow was an art historian, writer, educator, collector, and dealer who founded the Housatonic Museum of Art in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and who, upon his retirement from Housatonic Community College, became the authorized biographer of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, which he researched through close contact with the Christos from 1984 until his death in 1997. Although he had not completed the biography when he died, his wife Ann Chernow saw the manuscript through to publication, and the biography,
Christo and Jeanne-Claude: A Biography
, was first published in Germany in 2000, and then in the United States in 2002.
Born in New York City in 1933, Chernow earned a master's degree in art education at New York University in 1960, and began his career as an art teacher in the Westport, Connecticut public schools, later joining the faculty of the Art Department at the Housatonic Community College, where he eventually became the department's director. He also taught at the Museum of Modern Art, organizing the Children's Art Carnival in Harlem through the museum, and at Silvermine School of the Arts, the A.B.C.D. Arts Center in Bridgeport, Conn., and the Stamford Museum. While on faculty at Housatonic Community College, he began collecting original artworks, mainly through donations directly from the artists, for what eventually became the Housatonic Museum of Art. Over the course of nearly 30 years he amassed over 4000 works for the collection, the largest of its kind for a community college, and remained the museum's Emeritus Director until his death. He remained active in civic arts organizations in Westport as well, where he was a founding member of the Westport Arts Center, served on the Westport Arts Advisory Council, and helped to establish the annual Westport Arts Awards.
Upon his retirement from the Housatonic faculty in 1984, Chernow approached Christo and Jeanne-Claude about becoming their authorized biographer. He had participated in their project
in Miami in 1983, and had played a role in exhibitions and artist talks by Christo at the Aldrich Museum (1981) and the Wadsworth Atheneum (1978) as well. He and his wife Ann Chernow attended and helped to document the
Wrapped Pont Neuf
(1985) in Paris, and then visited Christo's family in Bulgaria in 1986. It was after their Bulgarian trip that Christo and Jeanne-Claude agreed to authorize him to write their biography, and Chernow's research began in earnest. He conducted hundreds of interviews with them, their family, and associates, participated in the major large-scale projects that took place between 1985 and 1995, and completed a draft of the biography up to the year 1982 before he died suddenly in 1997. After his death, his wife Ann Chernow saw the biography through to publication. It was published with an epilogue by Wolfgang Volz, the Christos' official photographer, bringing the Christos' story up to date from where Chernow had left off, first in Germany, and later in the United States and Italy.
Chernow wrote many books, catalogs, and articles about other artists as well, including Milton Avery, Francisco Zuniga, Gabor Peterdi, Will Barnet, Jean Woodham, and Lester Johnson, among others, and published and lectured widely on the subjects of art education and public art.