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Christo And Jean Claude Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2348 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Christo and Jeanne-Claude have many interesting pieces of work ranging from their first “Documenta 4” to “The Gates”. I will be covering some of their major works; such as, “Wrapped Coast,” “Valley Curtain,” “Running Fence,” “Surrounded Islands,” “Reichstag,” and “The Gates.” I have always enjoyed big installations because the work has always astounded me; the sheer size of the pieces is amazing.

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Close to the end of 1969, Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped the coast of Little Bay, in Sydney, Australia, as a part of the Alcorso-Sekers Travelling Scholarship. With the support of the John Kaldor, this was their first trip to Australia for international artists, and the first in the series of Kaldor Public Art Projects. One hundred workers and eleven volunteers devoted over seventeen thousand work hours to make this project a reality. They wrapped two and a half kilometers of coast and cliffs up to twenty-six meters high. Ninety-five thousand six hundred m^2 of synthetic fabric and 56 km of rope was required to finish this astounding project. At the time, it was the single largest piece of art ever made. This project was bigger than Mount Rushmore, and it visitors took over an hour to walk from one end of the piece to the other. Reactions were largely positive and had a very large impact on Australian art.

The “Valley Curtain” art project was started with preparations at the end of the 1970s. This project was a four hundred meter long cloth stretched across Rifle Gap. Rifle Gap is a valley in the Rocky Mountains near Rifle, Colorado. It required about fourteen thousand m^2 of cloth to be hung on four steel cables, fastened with iron, and fixed in concrete on the slopes and two hundred tons of concrete. This project cost over $400,000. Trying to finance this huge piece was an additional problem, and it caused them to sell some of their other works to raise the money. On October 10, 1971, the curtain was ready for hanging. Unfortunately, the curtain had been torn to pieces by the wind beating it against the rocks. On August 10th of the next year, the second attempt to hang the cloth was a success. Unfortunately, only a day later, it was destroyed by a storm with winds reaching speeds in excess of sixty miles per hour.

The “Running Fence” was completed on September 10, 1976. The workers waited fourteen days, but then they removed everything, leaving not a trace. This piece consisted of a fence almost twenty-five miles long, extending across the hills of Sonoma and Marin counties in northern California. This fence was eighteen feet high and was composed of two thousand and fifty panels of white nylon fabric hung from steel cables by the means of three hundred fifty thousand hooks. Supporting these hooks where about two thousand steel poles stuck into the ground and being braced by steel guide wires that were anchored to the ground. This piece began near U.S. Highway 101 and crossed fourteen roads, the private properties of fifty-nine ranchers to reach the Bodega Bay of the Pacific Ocean. The environmental impact report that was required for this gigantic piece was an astounding four hundred and fifty pages long. This piece is said to have been partly inspired by fences demarcating the Continental Divide in Colorado.

In 1978, a documentary film “Running Fence” by Albert and David Maysles, told the story of this piece. This film includes scenes showing the local response to the project, which ranged from active protest and resentment to excitement. Byron Randall, the expressionist painter, protested the piece on the grounds of both land infringement and lack of artistic merit; however, others appreciated the beauty of the work, and in the end the project was completed. This piece is commemorated by historic markers at Watson School near Bodega, California, and State Route 1 in Valley Ford, California. In December 1976, the country landmarks commission, county of Sonoma designated the Valley Ford site as Historic landmark number twenty-four.

Jeanne-Claude’s idea to surround eleven islands in Miami’s Biscayne Bay was completed on May 4, 1983. It was completed with the aid of four hundred and thirty workers, and was there for two whole weeks. About six hundred thousand m^2 of pink polypropylene floating fabric surrounded the eleven islands was definitely a site to behold. “Surrounded Islands” covered over 7 miles, and for two weeks, it was seen and enjoyed by the public, from the causeways, the land, water, and air. The bright pink color of the shiny fabric was in tune with the tropical vegetation of the uninhabited verdant island, the light of the Miami sky, and colors of the shallow waters of Biscayne Bay. As with Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s previous art projects, “Surrounded Islands” was entirely financed by the artists through the sale by C.V.J. Corporation of the preparatory pastel and charcoal drawings, collages, lithographs, and early works. On May 4, 1983, out of a total work force of four hundred and thirty people, the unfurling crew began to blossom the pink fabric. “Surrounded Islands” was tended to day and night by one hundred and twenty monitors in inflatable boats. “Surrounded Islands” was a work of art that underlined the various elements and ways in which the people of Miami live between land and water.

The project known as “Reichstag” is easily one of the biggest endeavors Christo and Jeanne-Clade has accomplished, and in my opinion, it is also one of the best. With the support of the President of the Parliament, Rita Sussmuth, Christo and Jeanne-Claude worked to convince the elected Members of Parliament. They went from office to office, writing explanatory letters to each of the six hundred and sixty-two delegates, and innumerable telephone calls and negotiations. On February 25, 1995, after a seventy minute debate at the Parliament, and a Roll Call vote, the Bundestag allowed the project to go ahead. The Bonn government was so enthusiastic about the artwork that Christo and Jeanne-Claude were asked to extend the project. However, since all of their art projects are temporary, this was not possible. The building was unwrapped again on July 7 as planned. Christo explained during a training session for the monitors, “Temporary because it challenges our notion of art to challenge the immortality of art. We make art not out of gold, silver or marble and think it would stay forever. Non-permanent art will be missed… Also, the artwork cannot stay because it expresses freedom, poetic freedom — all projects are about freedom. This project cannot be bought or sold, nobody can charge, can sell tickets. Freedom is the enemy of possession” (Hammerstingl).

The Wrapper began on June 17, 1995, and it was finished on the 24th. The spectacle was seen by five million visitors before the unveiling began on July 7th. “Two times more material was used than was needed, which allowed deep vertical pleats that cascaded down. Because there is always some wind around the Reichstag, the wind was playing with the pleats of the fabric, causing a quiet movement. The color of the fabric and the many deep vertical pleats created a dramatic contrast between light and shadow. This shape transformed the building into a new form. The wrapping of the Reichstag was like building a building,” says Christo (Hammerstingl). At a press conference, a reporter from a Jerusalem newspaper asked the artists if they would wrap the Knesset, “The Reichstag is the third and last building we wrapped. We have too many other projects to do. We cannot always wrap buildings. Otherwise we would be called the wrappers,” Jeanne-Claude answered (Hammerstingl). This project cost $13,000,000, everything financed by the artists themselves through selling their drawings, collages, and scale models of their projects. “All projects are inspired through personal ideas that give the freedom of the work. Freedom, because when it comes down to it, does not have to be justified” explains Christo.” (Hammerstingl).

The last project we will be discussing is “The Gates.” On January 3, 2005, work began on the installation of “The Gates” in Central Park in New York City. The official title of the piece is “The Gates, Central Park, New York, 1979-2005.” The title references the time that passed from their initial proposal until they were able to go ahead with it. Only with the permission of the new mayor of New York, Michael R. Bloomberg, were they able to proceed. It was open to the public only from February 12th until February 27th 2005. Seven thousand five hundred and three gates made of saffron color fabric were placed on paths in Central Park. It was five meters high and had a combined length of 37 km. Bloomberg, a fan of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, presented them with the “Doris C. Freedman Award for Public Art” for “The Gates”. They often expressed satisfaction that their concept for their home town of over thirty years was finally realized. An article covering this piece states, “The cost of the project was $21 million US dollars which was raised entirely by Christo and Jeanne-Claude selling studies, drawings, collages, works from the 1950s and 1960s. They do not accept any sponsorship, nor did the city of New York have to provide any money for the project. Christo and Jeanne-Claude donated all the money raised from the sale of souvenirs such as postcards, t-shirts and posters to ‘Nurture New York’s Nature, Inc.’ While the engineering, manufacturing and set-up took over a year, about 750 paid employees erected the project in five days and then deployed the fabric of all the gates in half an hour. Around 600 more (“Gate-keepers”) distributed 1 million free samples of the fabric to visitors. The uniformed Gate-keepers also provided information to visitors about the project, and were responsible for unrolling the gates that had rolled over their crossbars in the high wind.  More workers uninstalled the project in one week, leaving almost no trace and shipping all the materials for recycling” (Wikipedia). From the pictures with the snow and the vivid color of the gates are a very good contrast of color and the way they seem to jump out against the snow. The pictures aren’t a great representation of the work, but since their art is temporary, it is the best we can do without being in that certain time and place. This piece is simple in its design, difficult in its realization, and astounding.

A little about the artists, Christo and Jeanne-Claude met in October 1958, when he was commissioned to paint a portrait of her mother, Precilda de Guillebon. They had a son together who was born May 11, 1960. Jeanne-Claude’s parents were displeased with their relationship, particularly because of Christo’s refugee status, so they temporarily estranged themselves from their daughter. In 1964, they moved to New York City, poor and lacking fluency in the English language, Christo displayed his work in several galleries, including the well-known Castelli Gallery in New York, and gallery Schmela in Dusseldorf, Germany. Christo Began to create Store Fronts, which he built to scale. The sale of the Store Fronts helped finance larger projects.

They have won many, many awards for their art. In 1973, they were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary. In 2004, they won an Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award, International Sculpture Center, from Hamilton, New Jersey. In 2005, they were awarded the “Doris C. Freedman Award for Public Art” by New York’s mayor. In 2006, they were awarded the Best Project in a Public Space for “The Gates, Central Park, New York, 1979-2005.” In 2008, they were awarded honorary degrees from “Franklin & Marshall College.” Finally, in 2011, they were awarded more honorary degrees from Occidental College.

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In closing, Christo and Jeanne-Claude are some of my favorite artists. They have amazing vision for what they want to do in each of their pieces. They don’t stop trying for something; for example, “The Gates” which took 30 years to finally finish. They are, to me, some of the best installation and temporary artists. Their technics may be simple, but it is amazing. They are so popular that in 1978, Charles M. Schulz drew an episode of the show “Peanuts” where Snoopy’s doghouse is wrapped in fabric by Christo. In response, Christo constructed a wrapped doghouse and presented it to the Charles M. Schulz Museum in 2003. You can’t say enough about what they do, or their drive to do accomplish it. Most people would have given up on their many projects, but they completing them only because of their tenacity and drive to get what they needed done. There’s something to be learned from these two; such as, no matter the odds, or what is put against you, if you never give up, you can and will succeed. Also, staying with the person you love can lead to a tough but fulfilling life. Christo and Jeanne-Claude are one of, maybe even the best, temporary installation types of artists.

Work Cited

Paul F. Fabozzi. Artists, Critics, Context: Readings in and Around American Art since 1945.

Upper Saddle River, N.J. : Prentice Hall, 2002.

Werner Hammerstingl. “Installation Art.” www.Olinda.com. 1998.


Wikipedia. “Christo and Jeanne-Claude” www.wikipedia.com. Dec. 3, 2012.



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