Christo and Jeanne-Claude Discuss "The Gates"

By King, Carol | Art Business News, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Christo and Jeanne-Claude Discuss "The Gates"


King, Carol, Art Business News


A presentation by husband-and-wife team Christo and Jeanne-Claude goes way beyond a lesson on art. The pair, with inimitable wit, recently discussed how to dream big and achieve those large ideas while patiently cutting through bureaucratic red tape.

During their talk, which took place in Westport, CT, Christo played straight man to Jeanne-Claude's dry humor. "Christo will present a slide show illustrating some of our projects" she told the audience, "From time to time, I will make a comment so that Christo knows I have not fallen asleep."

During the slide show, Christo outlined projects the pair has tackled since their first large-scale installation at the Cologne (Germany) Harbor in 1961. "Dockside Packages," their first temporary outdoor environmental work of art, was on the waterfront of the Rhine River. For the project, the artists used several stacks of oil barrels and large rolls of industrial paper, covering both with tarpaulins that they secured with ropes.

The installation was comprised of separate parts of various sizes, each about 16.4 x 6.5 x 32.8 feet. The temporary work of art remained in place for two weeks.

Since then, the pair has gone on to temporarily surround islands in Biscayne Bay, Miami, FL, with 6.5 million square feet of pink, woven polypropylene fabric floating on the surface of the water (1983); install 1,340 19-foot, 8-inch high blue umbrellas in Japan and 1,760 yellow umbrellas in California (1991); and wrap the Reichstag in Berlin using 1,076,000 square feet of polypropylene fabric, 51,181 feet of rope and 200 metric tons of steel (1995).

These large-scale endeavors do not occur overnight. Environmental studies and dialogue with city officials, engineers and government agencies are just the tip of the iceberg. "When we wrapped the Pont Neuf in Paris, it took us 10 years to get the permits," said Jeanne-Claude. "It was a very difficult project because of political problems with the mayor of Paris."

Current Work of Art

The couple's next work of art, "The Gates, Project for Central Park, New York City," which is slated for February 2005, has been in development since 1979.

As part of the project, 7,500 gates--16-foot-high with a width varying from 5 to 18 feet--will follow the edges of the walkways and will be perpendicular to the selected 23 miles of footpaths in Central Park. Free-hanging saffron-colored fabric panels suspended from the horizontal top part of the gates will come down to approximately 7 feet above the ground. The gates will be spaced at 12-foot intervals allowing the synthetic-woven panels to wave horizontally towards the next gate and be seen from far away through the leafless branches of the trees. The temporary work of art will be open to the public for 16 days before it is removed.

A contract has been drafted between the City of New York, and the Department of Parks and Recreation and the artists. The contract requires the artists to provide, among other terms and conditions:

* Personal and property liability insurance "holding harmless" the City of New York, the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Central Park Conservancy.

* Restoration bond providing funds for complete removal.

* Full cooperation with the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Central Park Conservancy, the New York Police Department, the New York City Arts Commission, the Landmarks Commission and the Community Boards.

* Clearance for the usual activities in the park and access of rangers, maintenance, clean-up, police and emergency vehicles.

* The artists shall pay all costs of the park's supervision directly related to the project.

* Neither vegetation nor rock formations shall be disturbed.

* "The Gates" will be clear of rocks, tree roots and low branches.

* Only small vehicles will be used and they will be confined to existing walkways during installation and removal. …

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