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Most Common Errors

By Christo and Jeanne-Claude

A few answers to the Most Common Errors which have been found in books, magazines, newspapers and seen on TV.

Christo was born in Bulgaria. NOT IN SIX OTHER COUNTRIES as it has been published in various newspapers, art books, art magazines and heard on television.

Error: Christo (1) wrapped (2) some (3) islands in Florida, off the coast of Miami (4) in Key Biscayne (5), with pink plastic (6). There are six errors in that one sentence.

1. & 2. Christo and Jeanne-Claude never Wrapped any Islands. They Surrounded the Islands.

3. There were eleven islands surrounded, but because in two occasions 2 islands were surrounded together, there was a total of nine configurations on a span of seven miles.

4. Not off the coast -- off the coast would be in the Atlantic Ocean --East of Miami Beach.

5. It was in Biscayne Bay in the heart of the City of Miami, between the City of Miami and Miami Beach. "Key Biscayne" is many miles away from there.

6. Not plastic -- FABRIC. Woven Polypropylene is a man-made fiber, and is woven. Plastic refers to a film, not woven. For instance, women who wear nylon stockings are not wearing plastic stockings.

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Surrounded Islands.
1983 Christo.
Photo: Wolfgang Volz.

Error: Running Fence, in Sonoma (1), made of parachute material (2).
1. Sonoma is a city in Northern California many miles away from the Running Fence. Running Fence was in Sonoma County and in Marin County.

2. The nylon fabric of the Running Fence could never be used for parachutes -- God forbid that anyone would ever jump with that type of fabric.

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Running Fence.
1976 Christo.
Photo: AK Ciesielski

Error: Volunteers.
NEVER -- on any project. Everyone who works is paid: normal union wages for specialized professional workers, and just above minimum wage for non-skilled workers.

ONE exception: In Australia in 1969, out of 125 paid workers, eleven architecture students refused to be paid -- three of them became artists after the project and are now well known.

Error: The Christos are mysterious about their work?
NO -- Christo and Jeanne-Claude constantly lecture and answer questions from the audience, in museums, colleges, universities and schools all over the world.

Error: Mr. Christo.
No -- Christo is his first name and the only one he uses. Jeanne-Claude uses her first name. Their son Cyril uses Christo's first name as his legal last name: Cyril Christo.

Error: Jean-Claude.
No -- Jeanne-Claude (in French Jean-Claude is a man's name).

Error: Christo (1) always (2) sold his work at high price.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude are their own art dealers, they sell Christo's works to Art Collectors, Museums, Galleries and Art Dealers. In 1958, the price of Christo's works varied, according to size, between $40 and $100. The Christos were happy with such prices, because their rent was $70 a month. To supplement the "non-sales" of his art, between 1956 and 1964 Christo had to paint portraits, oil on canvas, which he signed by his family name: Javacheff. Those were highly paid, $200 to $300 each, that is how they could survive -- that is also how he met Jeanne-Claude, in Paris in 1958, when he painted the portrait of Jeanne-Claude's mother.

Error: Conceptual Artists.
No -- a conception on a paper is not the Christos' idea of art. They want to build their projects. They could save a lot of money by not building them, by just keeping them on paper -- as conceptual artists do. The Christos want to SEE their project realized because they believe it will be beautiful.

Environmental Artist:
Yes, because they did many works in Cities, in Urban environments, and also in Rural Environments but NEVER in deserted places, and always sites already prepared and used by people, managed by human beings for human beings. Therefore they are not "Land Art" either.

Error: The Easy life of an artist.
Not so. Christo works an average of 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. Jeanne-Claude is a bit more lazy, only 12 hours a day.

So called Environmentalists, in the past, have claimed, before each project that the Christos will hurt the environment. They realized, after the completion that:

1. Christo and Jeanne-Claude are the cleanest artists in the world, all is removed, their large scale works of art are temporary.

2. The sites are restored to their original condition and most materials are recycled. Except: in Florida, for the Surrounded Islands, the site was not restored to its original condition. The Christos' workers removed, before the project, at Christo and Jeanne-Claude's expense, 40 tons of garbage from the eleven Islands -- of course the garbage was not restored to the Islands!

3. The Real Environmentalists such as the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club, find themselves on Christo and Jeanne-Claude's side -- because they are better informed and they know how much the Christos spend to make the public aware of the environment, through the art work, much more than Environmentalists can afford to do.

Error: See the art work best by flying.
No! None of their work is designed for the birds, all have a scale to be enjoyed by human beings.

About The Umbrellas, Japan-USA, 1984-91 .
The Christos designed The Umbrellas to be seen by driving and also by walking, and going UNDER The Umbrellas, and sitting on the sitting platform/base cover. Neither Christo nor Jeanne-Claude flew to look at their previous works -- Wrapped Coast, Valley Curtain, Running Fence, Wrapped Walk Ways, The Pont Neuf Wrapped -- because those works were designed to be experienced from the ground -- NOT by flying.

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The Umbrellas.
1991 Christo.
Photo: AK Ciesielski

The Surrounded Islands were designed to be seen from the surrounding buildings, all around the Bay, from the bridges and causeways, from the Roads, by boat and also from the air -- Christo flew by helicopter ONCE -- for 20 minutes -- and only at Surrounded Islands. Jeanne-Claude flew more times because it was the fast way to check on the progress of the work and she wanted to take photos at the same time as Wolfgang Volz. The Umbrellas were NOT designed to be seen from the air. The temporary work of art could not be fully enjoyed from the air. Hundreds of umbrellas were placed along the roads, very accessible, on public property for the public to freely enjoy and photograph. After 18 days, the Umbrellas were removed from the land. They were taken apart and most of the materials were recycled. The paint was scraped off the aluminum parts, which were melted down and used again as aluminum -- like soda cans or whatever aluminum is used for. The steel bases became scrap metal or were used as bases for satellite dishes. The fabric used in the projects are always industrial man-made fabric, which are manufactured for ecological purposes (air and water filters, or sand bags against floods), or agricultural purposes, such as "erosion control mesh" which was used for the Wrapped Coast in Australia in 1969, and for construction purposes.


Why Umbrellas?
Like all their projects, this work of art was not only aesthetic about creating Joy and Beauty -- it was about comparison -- showing the similarities and differences in the ways of life and the use of the land of two peoples -- the two richest in the world -- living across the Pacific Ocean. Space is an element of the 3-Dimensional works of art -- a sculpture has its own space around it, while a painting is a flat surface. Christo and Jeanne-Claude wanted to show the differences of the use of the space in an inland valley in the USA and in an inland valley in Japan -- they needed a free standing module or shape that they would place in a configuration reflecting the availability of the space in the valley in Ibaraki and the valley in California. Because there is less space available in Japan (92% of the land cannot be used, because of the steep volcanic mountains; 124 million Japanese people live on only 8% of the surface of Japan) the Christos positioned the Umbrellas quite close together, sometimes following the geometry of the rice fields. In California, the configuration of the design on the land showed the vastness of the uncultivated grazing land. The configuration was whimsical and the Umbrellas were spreading in every direction. Also, the Christos needed a structure which can be opened very quickly -- it took 45 seconds to crank open each Umbrella, and this is related to the temporary character of the project. The shape of an Umbrella is quite similar to the pointed roof of a house; the height was the same as the average 2 story houses. Christo and Jeanne-Claude say that they were building houses without walls, like creating temporary settlements. An Umbrella is a symbol for shelter, against both rain and sun. It is an image that is easily understood, by any age, any country, any civilization, and this, for the past 4,800 years, since the Umbrella shape was invented in Mesopotamia. Today Iran is part of what was Mesopotamia, where, in those days, the people believed that the sky was a giant Umbrella placed by the Gods, to protect human beings. The shape of the Umbrella is found throughout the art history of any century and civilization, as in Persepolis, Bas Relief, Darius under an umbrella, the main characters in paintings and frescoes are often under an umbrella.

Why Blue ? Why Yellow?
In Japan where it rains throughout the summer the landscape is green. There is a river, the Sato River, in which 90 Umbrellas were standing in the water. Many different shades of green vegetation. It is a humid and wet landscape therefore: Blue Umbrellas.

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The Umbrellas.
1991 Christo.
Photo: Wolfgang Volz.

In Southern California the dry Season lasts during the whole summer. The grass is burnt by the sun, and becomes blond grass on brown hills. It is a dry landscape, therefore: Yellow Umbrellas.

The Umbrellas.
1991 Christo.
Photo: AK Ciesielski

This was part of the aesthetic of the temporary work of art, which was a comparison showing the similarities and differences between the landscapes. The Christos chose two landscapes which were visually different, even though so many parts were similar.

Some similarities: 2 Inland Valleys - used by people. Not touristic -- Real Life -- inhabited by people doing their usual activities. In both Countries: People -- Houses -- Villages -- Small Towns -- Roads -- Traffic -- Barns -- Churches/Temples -- Schools -- Post Offices -- Restaurants --Stores -- Gas Stations. In the two richest countries in the world.

Some Differences: 452 Landowners in a shorter valley in Ibaraki, Japan, 12 miles long (19 Km); 26 Landowners in California, the valley was 18 miles long (29 Km).

Why Ibaraki? Why California?
When the Christos were looking for the 2 ideal valleys across the Pacific, they wanted the valleys to be quite accessible, not far from a metropolitan area, so that the work would be easier, for the workers, supplies, and for the visitors. Ibaraki is just north of Tokyo, close to Narita International airport. The California site is just north of Los Angles, close to LAX International airport. The Pacific Rim unites the two sites, it would not be so if the Christos had chosen the East Coast of the USA or the northern part of the West Coast, the landscape would be too similar to the verdant Ibaraki, and it would not have the relationship brought by the Pacific.

Why more in California than in Japan?
There were 1,760 Umbrellas in California and 1,340 in Japan. The valley was longer in California, it was 18 miles (29 km) long and in Japan the valley was 12 miles (19 km) long.

Why 3,100?
The number of Umbrellas came out of the inspiration of the artists, while looking at the topographic maps and later in 1988, walking around and climbing up and down many times, surveying the land and creating their own design or drawing on the two landscapes. There was an ever present factor to limit the number to 3,000. That factor is called Jeanne-Claude, who kept saying that the maximum cost should be for 3,000 Umbrellas, however there were 3,100!!!

About Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin, 1971-95.
The History of the Reichstag and significant dates of the Wrapped Reichstag, Project are written on in a separate paper, but there are a few things which must be mentioned. The Nazis never held a parliamentary session inside the Reichstag. Before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the Reichstag was situated in the British Occupation zone of West Berlin, however part of the East facade of the Building was under the jurisdiction of the Soviet Occupation zone of East Berlin. The Reichstag was NOT located in the "no-man's land" between East and West. That empty, desolate space East of the Berlin Wall was entirely in the Soviet zone. The Wall itself was NOT the border between East and West, the Wall was built entirely inside East Berlin, otherwise the Soviets would not have been able to build it.


When Christo and Jeanne-Claude discuss a new project, it usually ends up larger than Jeanne-Claude wanted. For instance, when Jeanne-Claude proposed to Christo the idea of the Surrounded Islands, she meant to surround three or four islands... They surrounded eleven islands.

What do the Christos mean when they talk about the "Software" and the "Hardware" period? The software period is the time during which the project exists only on Christo's preparation drawings and in the imagination of the artists and their collaborators, and all those from whom permissions must be obtained -- many years of work, 1984 to 1991 for the Umbrellas, 1975 to 1985 for The Pont Neuf, 1971 to 1995 for the Wrapped Reichstag. The drawings on paper created by Christo are always done before the completion of a project. Those preparatory drawings, collages, scale models, are revealing of the evolution of the details, through the development and crystallization of the initial idea.

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The Umbrellas, Project for Japan
and Western USA, 1987.
Collage in two parts. 1982 Christo.
Photo: Wolfgang Volz.

They reflect the years of research involving the location of the site, the accumulated knowledge of the site and the technical aspects of the structure slowly evolving towards the final engineering and the construction blue prints. As with all artists, those drawings are sold by the artist's art dealer -- in the case of Christo's drawings, Christo and Jeanne-Claude are their own art dealers. They sell to museums, art collectors, art dealers and galleries, through the Corporation which was created to build the projects. The money coming from the sale of Christo's original works of art is used to pay all the expenses of the preparation, completion, maintenance and removal. Not only there is no profit, there is not even money back -- just like bringing up a child.

The Christos do NOT sell T-shirts, Postcards, Posters, Photographs and have NO royalties on the sale of any of these. The Christos have no royalties either on the books and films about their works. On the contrary they often financially helped the publication of the books until 1995 and entirely financed the making of the documentaries by Maysles Films.

It is totally idiotic to call Christo and Jeanne-Claude the "wrapping artists." So many works were not wrapping:

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Iron Curtain.
1962 Christo.
Photo: Jean-Dominique Lajoux.

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Valley Curtain.
1972 Christo.
Photo: Harry Shunk

The Iron Curtain, Paris, 1962; Valley Curtain, 1970-72; Running Fence, 1972-76; Surrounded Islands, 1980-83; The Umbrellas, 1984-91. Only three buildings were wrapped: The Kunsthalle Berne, 1968, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1969 and The Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin, 1995, which is the third and last wrapped building -- it was initiated in 1961 first and then again in 1971. In 1971 the Valley Curtain was already well underway, and was NOT a wrapping. The last time they had an idea of "wrapping" was in 1975 -- The Pont Neuf Wrapped but it took ten years to get permission. The "Wrapping" is NOT at all the common denominator of the works, what is really the common denominator is the use of FABRIC, CLOTH, TEXTILE. Fragile and temporary material which translate the temporary character of the works of art.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude were both born on June 13, 1935. In 1994, they decided to officially change the artist name Christo into: the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude. They have been working together since their first outdoor temporary work: Dockside Packages, Cologne Harbor, 1961. Because Christo was already an artist when they met in 1958, and Jeanne-Claude was not an artist then, they have decided that their name will be "Christo and Jeanne-Claude", NOT Jeanne-Claude and Christo. They are very proud of their son Cyril, born in 1960. Cyril is a poet and has four published books of his poems. In 1985, when Cyril was 25 years old, he produced a documentary film against war, A Stitch for Time, and it was nominated for an Academy Award.

The temporary quality of the projects is an AESTHETIC decision. In order to endow (donate, make a gift) the works of art with the feeling of urgency to be seen, and the tenderness brought by the fact that it will not last, those feelings are usually reserved for other temporary things such as childhood and our own life, those are valued because we KNOW that they will not last. These feelings of love and tenderness Christo and Jeanne-Claude want to offer to their works, as an added value, dimension and aesthetic quality. The fact that Christo and Jeanne-Claude pay for their projects with their own money is also an aesthetic decision, they want to work in total freedom, and is why they accept no sponsors, so that they can do: what they want, how they want, where they want, but of course, not always WHEN they want because it took them 24 years to get the permit for the Wrapped Reichstag, and ten years for The Pont Neuf Wrapped.

All income from the sale of Christo's early works and preparation works on paper, drawings and collages, showing what a project will look like, is spent for the preparation, realization and removal of the projects: Materials, Labor, Shipping, Insurance, Engineering, Staff, Rentals, Legal, etc. The Christos do not spend their money on what is the usual pleasure of most people. They have their own priorities, and spend their money on what is their pleasure: Building works of Art of joy and beauty for themselves and their collaborators, first of all, and for all to enjoy for free. There can be no money back on the expenses because they do not charge admission and they do not accept any commercial offers. The Christos have never received a cent for posters, postcards, books, films, etc. Most Artists receive grants, foundation money and produce commissioned works of art for an art patron -- the Christos do not accept those. They have never accepted sponsorship of any kind, and they never will, because they value their freedom most of all. Also they never accept to create a work in collaboration with other artists, nor the ideas of others for the choice of a site for their work. The search for freedom is the reason why Christo escaped from his native country Bulgaria, at age 21, while it was under Communist rule. Christo and Jeanne-Claude will never allow any kind of "strings attached." They refuse all commercial involvement -- at any price. They refused a ONE Million dollar fee for a 60 second commercial on Japanese television, in 1988. The Christos have lived at the same address since 1964 when they emigrated to the USA -- Christo's studio is on the 5th floor -- there is no elevator. This is their one and only home. Christo has never had an assistant. He works alone in his studio. He even does his own framing. Because the Christos work with so many hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people at the sites of projects, Christo's studio is the only place where he can be by himself, so that he can create the drawings which show their ideas of what a temporary work of art will look like.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude


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