Happy Birthday, Christo and Jeanne-Claude
These artists were a husband-and-wife team until Jeanne-Claude's sudden death last November.
Born on the exact same day, June 13, 1935, the two met in Paris in 1958. They are famous for their “environmental art” works, which are large-scale and temporary works that make a big visual impact and help us see familiar landscapes in new ways.
Some spectacular examples include wrapping the Reichstag (the parliament building) in Berlin and the Pont-Neuf bridge in Paris, wrapping islands, and installing a fabric-wrapped fence over 24 miles long in California.
All these art pieces are temporary. They are installed, remain up for varying amounts of time (from one to three weeks) and then are taken down. Christo said about the temporary nature of his work: "I am an artist, and I have to have courage... Do you know that I don't have any artworks that exist? They all go away when they're finished. Only the preparatory drawings, and collages are left, giving my works an almost legendary character. I think it takes much greater courage to create things to be gone than to create things that will remain."
Many time we think of art as paintings and sculptures, but when we see a beautifully wrapped building or an array of umbrellas dotting the landscape, we realize that art isn't so easy to define or limit.
By the way, Christo was born in Bulgaria, and Jeanne-Claude in France, but according to their website, they both became Americans.
Um...wrapping a bridge? Why did the people of Paris go along with that one?
Sometimes Christo and Jeanne-Claude come up with a great idea for a piece but have to wait a long time to be able to carry out their idea. For example, they got the idea to wrap that bridge in Paris in 1975, but it took ten years for them to get the permits!
For the 14 days that the Pont-Neuf bridge was wrapped, people flocked to see it. (There is never a charge to see Christo's and Jeanne-Claude's works. They are always installed in public spaces and are always, therefore, free to view.)
During the time that the piece was being prepared, installed, and displayed, many people in Paris continued to do their jobs—but in a new way, in relation to the art piece, which had no “practical” purpose. For example, policemen continued to direct traffic, but now had to direct it around the crowds. Lawyers wrote contracts and applied for permits, factory workers sewed the cloth that wrapped the bridge, the mayor and city workers figured the logistics of allowing the art piece to be installed and viewed. Even the artists who paint the bridge every day for sales to tourists went about their usual jobs—but for those 14 days, they painted the bridge wrapped.
That is part of the point of the art. Christo explains that his art “teases” society ”and society responds, in a way, as it responds in a very normal situation like building bridges, or roads, or highways. What we know is different is that all this energy is put to a fantastic irrational purpose, and that is the essence of the work.”
Learn more about Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
- Jan Greenberg wrote a book called Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Through the Gates and Beyond.
- Eye Level did an interview of the two artists.