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Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum

March 23, 1999
Quick! Think of an overwhelming and breathtaking piece of visual art.

Got one? What is it? Most likely it is a picture, painting or a sculpture, right?. After all, there aren't really many other possibilities for visualizing an artistic thought, right? Well if you think that, let me prove you wrong. There are other possibilities, and Christo proves so with each and every piece of his work. He and his partner, Jeanne-Claude, use the very world we live and work in as their canvas; cloth and metal constructions framed with heavy machinery as their brushes and our perception of the environment as their medium through which they share inspiration with us. Before
introducing you to some of their most impressive works, a little background about their lives and their mode of working is appropriate.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, realizing their works in close cooperation, were both born on the same day; June 13, 1935. Destined to share not only their lives but also their artistic careers together, Christo was born Christo Javacheff in Bulgaria, and Jeanne-Claude, born Jeanne-Claude de Guillebon, in Paris where the two met in 1958. Their couple's collaboration led to a son, Cyril, who was born in 1960 and is now a published poet. The family emigrated and established permanent residence in new York in 1964.

The earliest works of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, such as Wrapped Bottle and Wrapped Can, date back to 1958. They are exactly what they proclaim to be- small, everyday objects rendered disquieting and enigmatic by the simple act of wrapping and tying them up, by withholding the objects' actual appearance from a viewer's eyes. These small works were shortly followed by more monumental works that turned the art world's attention to a single name. It was 1961, the year in which the couple made the first temporary work in what would become their trademark style, Dockside Packages in Cologne, Germany. Although the works have always been a collaboration of both Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the two have been known by the singular name of Christo ever since.

Wrapped Trees in Richen, Switzerland.

After years of having been known as one artist (Christo) and one manger (Jeanne-Claude), the couple only recently adjusted the attribution of all their works to both of their names. Asked about the
reasons for not stating the contribution of both to their works from the beginning, Jeanne-Claude replies: "That was how we wanted it then. We were not as old and wise as we are today.
We didn't have the guts to tell the truth. Then it was hard enough for one Bulgarian refugee artist to be accepted in new York, two artists would have been harder."

But what actually do the two artists do? Christo and Jeanne-Claude call themselves Environmental Artists- artists who use both the rural and the urban environment to create temporary works of art. By combining a piece of the world surrounding us, such as a huge building or an island or even a landscape with manmade materials such as cloth, umbrellas, or fences, they create pictures, emotions, impressions which surmount our common ideas of art. In place for only a few days, their works are soon dismantled, their vast quantities of materials are recycled, and the site restored to its original condition.

The names of Christo and Jeanne-Claude most often prompt people to think of the couples work with wrapped buildings, such as the Wrapped Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, 1969), the Wrapped Pont Neuf in Paris, 1985), the Wrapped Reichstag in Berlin, 1995, or the Wrapped Trees in Richen, Switzerland, 1998. However, their works include
more than just wrappings - impressive works such as the Valley Curtain in Rifle, Colorado, 1972, the Running Fence along Sonoma & Marin county coasts in California, 1976), Surrounded Islands in Miami, Florida, 1983, and The Umbrellas in both Japan and the United States in 1991.

Islands surrounded in Miami, Florida, 1983

All the temporary works are financed entirely by the artists through the sale of preparatory studies, drawings, collages, and scale models. They do not accept sponsorships of any kind.

"We accept no volunteers. Everyone who works with us (except my mother) is paid," says Jeanne-Claude. Months or sometimes years before any physical work is done with the installation of a piece the two artists come up with the ideas and put them to paper in the form of drawings, many of which are coveted works of art in their own right. "The only way corporate executives can be involved in our projects is to buy the drawings, which is always an intelligent investment."

Between 1991 and 1995, Christo and Jeanne-Claude spent $39 million of their own money to make works of art; money which was spent on materials, bonds, permits, and salaries for the employment of the thousands of workers required to realize them. "We are borrowing space owned by many people," explains Christo, "and with this comes many restrictions and conditions. "Their projects involve many elements that do not normally belong to sculpture or painting, but would normally be concerned with building and construction.

The artists' possibly unique economic model assures Christo and Jeanne-Claude their freedom. "The freedom of every artist is essential," says Christo, adding that "before everything they are about freedom. Nobody needs this work but the artist".

"We make temporary works of joy and beauty," says Jeanne-Claude in an interview from the couple's home office in New York." We do them for our own pleasure and the pleasure of our collaborators."

A wrapped Reichstag in Berlin, Germany.

Their temporary, large-scale environmental works (both urban and rural environments) contain elements of painting, sculpture, architecture and urban planning. By temporarily changing the face of the landscape, Christo and Jeanne-Claude changed the face of art forever. Their art is made to be experienced, not just to be looked at in the form of drawings of the artists or pictures of the realized works.

You might ask, How then can one experience their art? There are two ongoing projects which will soon be realized in the United States: The Gates, a project for New York's Central Park, and Over the River, a project for the Arkansas river in Colorado. These projects give not only the artists but the connoisseurs as well the chance of a lifetime-the chance to become part of a thrilling piece of art by sharing in the artists' inspiration.

The Gates project was started in 1979 and consist of the idea of installing 15,000 steel gates, each 15 feet high, and lining the edges of 23 miles of walkway in New York's famed Central Park. The height of the gates is constant, but the width varies according to the width of each walkway. Attached to the upper part of each gate are saffron-colored, translucent fabric panels. The project has been on the verge of installation for the past few years and, when finally finished, will exist for a period of 14 days in February of 2005. "We work in real life," says Jeanne-Claude in reference to the fact that the New York Department of Parks, the Community Board, the Landmarks Commission, and the NYPD are all among the groups with which the artists must negotiate to see The Gates project for Central Park become a reality.

The realization of the Running Fences in California.

Over the River was begun much more recently, in 1992, and could also be realized in the next few years, perhaps as early as 2001. Fabric panels suspended horizontally above the Arkansas river will follow the configuration and width of the river's changing course. Steel wire cables, anchored on the upper part of the river banks, will cross the river and serve as attachment for the fabric panels. Wide clearance between the banks and the edges of the fabric panels will create a play of contrast allowing sunlight to illuminate the river on both sides. When seen from underneath, standing on the rocks at the edge of the river, at water level or by rafting, the luminous and translucent fabric will highlight the contours of the clouds, the mountains, and the vegetation. In order to find a suitable river for the project (which included such factors as a road running along the river, the shape and condition of the river banks and the velocity of the current), Christo and Jeanne-Claude traveled some 14,000 miles in the American Rocky Mountains.

While images, videos, and films of the artists' works have become popular commodities, Christo says documents, no matter how pleasing, cannot substitute for the work. "The drawings are about
the vision. The photographs, the films, the videotapes are about the project. But the work of art exists only once. There will never be another Running Fence, never another Wrapped Reichstag, never another Surrounded Island. Contrary to what many people think, art is not immortal. What we often see are just the remains." Indeed, the only place art of Christo
and Jeanne-Claude truly endures is in the memory of the people who experienced it.

THANKS TO > Nicole Plett, who wrote an article in U.S. 1 Newspaper on Feb. 19, 1997. Her article gave me a lot of useful information and I have taken the liberty of including citations from her work in this article. Thanks also to Jok Church, Adam Cisielski, Thomas Golden, Von Wall, who maintain the Christo website, which helped me a lot for the research on this article, and where the originals of the pictures used in this article can be found. Images by Jeanne-Claude, AK Ciesielski, Wolfgang Volz, JR Church.

COPYRIGHT > Christo and Jeanne-Claude

SEE ALSO: www.christojeanneclaude.net

Samuel Klaus
Samuel Klaus, a native of Zurich, Switzerland, is a legal expert and a contributor-at-large for LAS magazine.

See other articles by Samuel Klaus.



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