Christo and Jeanne-Claude: “Gentle disturbances”

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Just a couple of months ago, on 31 May, Christo (1935-2020) passed away. Together with his wife Jeanne-Claude (1935-2009), the artist created spectacular installations, often characterised by surrounding or wrapping features of the built or natural environment, including islands (Biscayne Bay, 1983) bridges (for example, Central Park, 2005) or a stretch of coastline (Sydney, 1969).

Like “the tents of nomadic tribes,” the monumental artworks by Christo and Jeanne-Claude were quickly put up then taken down again at the same speed, fleeting like life itself. Their spectacular interventions, their huge, ephemeral artworks, left an indelible mark on the memory of those who saw them, even though they were created to be viewed only for a few days. Akin to Land Art projects, with a special emphasis on the landscape and its (wrapped) features, these creations encouraged viewers to engage with surroundings which so often go unnoticed. That’s why Christo liked to define their works as “gentle disturbances” in public space. The couple employed synthetic materials in bold, uniform colours, masterfully contrasting or highlighting features of each different location.

“All these projects have this strong dimension of missing, of self-effacement … they will go away, like our childhood, our life. They create a tremendous intensity when they are there for a few days.” (Christo)

Ephemeral art, the poetry of transience

What do London, Sydney, New York, Miami, Kansas and Berlin have in common? All of them are cities or locations which have seen artworks created by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. From a wrapped tree to a whole building covered in material, these pieces are able to change our perception or relationship with our surroundings and the built environment. Among other monuments and emblematic sites, the couple intervened the Reichstag in 1995, wrapping the German parliament in thousands of metres of material and kilometres of rope, in place for barely a month.

The artists also worked in natural landscapes, such as the Berower Park in Riehen, to the north-east of Basel (Switzerland), where they wrapped 178 trees in shining silver fabric. In doing so, they completely changed the visual impact of this natural site, transforming the park into a fable.

In installations such as Umbrella, in California and Japan, the strategic repetition of a single feature made it possible to take in at a glance the impressive dimensions of the areas covered. In these works, Christo and Jeanne-Claude used thousands of umbrellas in colours chosen to contrast with the surrounding landscape (blue in Ibaraki, which highlighted the green vegetation alongside the river, and yellow in California, contrasting with the amber grasses of the region’s hills).

From 1 July to 19 October, “Christo et Jeanne-Claude, Paris!” will be showing at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, an exhibition which centres on The Pont Neuf Wrapped (Paris, 1975–1985), an artwork in which Christo and Jeanne-Claude covered the city’s Pont Neuf in fabric.

The art of wrapping. The longing to lend a new dimension.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s artworks took years to materialise, if they did at all. Each comprised two parts: the creation of the project and, most costly, permission to carry it out. As such, their interventions can be compared with the work of architects, who may design countless buildings during their lifetime but only see a few come to light. For example, the artists’ proposal to wrap the Puerta de Alcalá in Madrid never got the go-ahead. In total, Christ and Jeanne-Claude managed to realise less than half of their projects, creations of enormous structural, financial and logistical complexity which involved significant investment. The couple self-financed each of their works, not without overcoming great difficulty and obstacles along the way, with the support of their promoters, through the sale of drawings, collages, preparatory studies and photographs.     

Through their work, this artistic duo was capable of producing the most beautiful visual poetry I have ever seen. Together, through the act of wrapping, they created a new narrative for each space: a magical dream to attract the gaze of passersby. In tribute to Christo and Jeanne-Claude, we’ve redirected our attention from the monumental to the everyday, to what we can find around us: a streetlamp, a tree, a cabin, a slide, a park bench… They wrapped features of the urban landscape; inspired by their work, we have sought to lend these everyday elements a new dimension.  

Photography: Oscar Rivilla

Translation: Rebekah Jane Rhodes

Music: Electrophorus

Art direction: Oscar Rivilla and Carolina Verd

Fashion:

Main picture, picture 2 and 3: Top and pants from Humanoid courtesy by Pez tienda; sandals by Birkenstock courtesy from Finally Press

Picture number 4, 5 and 6: Top by Barena, skirt by Forte Forte courtesy from Pez tienda; sandals by Birkenstock courtesy from Finally Press