Eclectic Artist Noche Crist Dies; Known for Avant-Garde Works
By Louie Estrada
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 6, 2004; Page C12
Noche Crist, a Washington artist whose eclectic mix of paintings and sculptures evoking life's sensuality and pleasures made her a well-known figure of the avant-garde for nearly a half-century, died of respiratory arrest May 17 at her home in the District. She was 95 years old and had completed her final painting in March.
The Romanian-born, self-taught artist usually worked with acrylic paints on wooden panels or shaped transparent polyester resin to create images reminiscent of her childhood at her family's country estate outside Bucharest.
There, her budding artistic talents had been nurtured by an eccentric uncle who encouraged her to paint, preferably women without clothes. She survived two World Wars, married young and then divorced and, in the late 1940s, met an American Air Force officer assigned to the Allied Control Commission in Bucharest.
After they married, she accompanied him on his military assignments to Hawaii and elsewhere before settling in Washington, where she gradually found outlets for her creative instincts. One of them was making and selling Christmas cards with pictures of scenes from Georgetown. She also briefly taught at the now-defunct Institute of Contemporary Art in Washington.
But it was her paintings, sculptures, storytelling and entertaining that turned her into a legendary figure of the Washington art scene.
Most of those paintings -- big, narrative, biographical pieces -- displayed a strong Central European flair as they depicted dreamlike scenes of partially-dressed women posing seductively in opulent, sometimes fantastical, landscape settings.
In other paintings and plywood cutouts, she favored the bodies of bare-breasted women with feline heads locked in an embrace, as if dancing the tango. Her works gained a wide following among art patrons, including Olga Hirshhorn, one of Washington's leading art collectors.
"She really was an amazing woman," said Hirshhorn, who bought two sets of Mrs. Crist's candlesticks fashioned in the shape of nude female torsos. "She loved life, and it came through in her art."
Mrs. Crist showed regularly in the Washington area, especially at Gallery 10, which she helped establish in the 1970s. Located on the second floor of a building in the 1500 block of Connecticut Avenue NW, the gallery became a venue to showcase and promote new artists.
Mrs. Crist organized shows at Gallery 10 until the death of her husband, retired Air Force Col. David S. Crist, in 1988.
"As a curator, she was interested in experimentation and letting artists do what they want to do," said Judy Jashinsky, a Washington artist who first met Mrs. Crist in 1983. "She was a mentor and an artist in the truest sense."
In the late 1980s, Mrs. Crist turned her visual artwork into performance art. With the help of friends, she used earlier art exhibits as the basis for a theatrical production at the Washington Project for the Arts in Northwest Washington.
In 1995, the Washington Project for the Arts held a retrospective look at 50 years of Mrs. Crist's work called "Noche Crist: Boudoirs and Lupanars." In 2002, the Millennium Art Center in Washington opened a permanent installation of her artwork called the Pinck Room, a decorative setting featuring her sculptures, paintings and an assortment of erotic books.
Among the paintings in the Pinck Room is one titled "The Geese of Ograda," which Mrs. Crist once described as a true story from her childhood. The painting tells the story of a time when geese at her family's country estate began to eat the remains of grapes after a harvest. The geese gorged themselves and passed out drunk. The peasants, thinking the geese had died, began plucking their feathers. Eventually the geese began to wake up to find themselves nude.
She leaves no immediate survivors.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company