Christo and Jeanne-Claude were both born on June 13, 1935, he in Bulgaria, she in Morocco. They met in Paris in 1958 when Christo was commissioned to paint a portrait of Jeanne-Claude's mother. Since that time they have collaborated on an impressive oeuvre of artistic work. The wrapping of the Reichstag in the summer of 1995 once again placed the Christos in the spotlight of the international art world, a center stage position they have held several times before: in 1991 during the installation of The Umbrellas, Japan-U.S.A., 1984-91; in 1985, with The Pont Neuf Wrapped, Paris, 1975-1985; in 1976, with the installation of the Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76; and so on back to their first collaborations in 1961 on the docks of the Cologne harbor.
Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin, 1971-95
© Christo and Jeanne-Claude
Photo: Wolfgang Volz
Yet it would be incorrect to associate Christo and Jeanne-Claude only with these particular "high points." The previously mentioned installations took years of planning. The considerable activity which precede the installation of a piece is as much a part of a particular work as the actual installation. It took twenty-four years before the Reichstag could be wrapped, seven years to organize The Umbrellas, ten years to plan The Pont Neuf Wrapped, and three years for the Surrounded Islands in Biscayne Bay. Numerous books and videos have documented the remarkable succession of zoning board hearings, public forums, parliamentary debates, public and private meetings, legal releases and contract negotiations, press conferences, materials' tests, drawings, collages, exhibitions, as well as the enormous effort and teamwork required for the actual installations.
Over The River, Project For Arkansas River, Colorado
Photo: Wolfgang Volz
This is why each particular progression of activities is correctly referred to as a "project" and the dates for each piece start with the inception of the project idea and end with the de-installation of the piece. Currently the Christos are engaged in two projects: The Gates, Project for Central Park, New York City (1979-in progress); and Over the River, Project for the Arkansas River, Colorado (1992-in progress).
Individual aspects of the Christos' art may be linked to any number of artistic precursors, yet in its totality their work is truly unique. Their oeuvre has been approached critically via its resonance with Constructivism, Nouveau Rèalisme, happenings, conceptual art, land art, and the tradition of draped figures in art, especially those of Giotto and Rodin. Yet any single point of entry must be left behind if one is to fully appreciate the Christos' unparalleled achievements.
Photo: Harry Shunk
Of the many perspectives from which one can investigate the Christos' art it is the use of fabric as an agent for transformation and revelation that is perhaps most crucial. The wrapping or surrounding of familiar objects, the curtaining off of familiar views, the intervention of fabric where one least expects it undermines our comfortable residence with the accustomed and creates a sense of dislocation. This substitution of a more ambivalent than unfamiliar presence for the predictable is one of the key elements of their work. Yet the wrapping, draping, surrounding, or veiling action of the fabric does not dissolve the known. Rather it recontextualizes it within a variety of corresponding associations. As the curtain surges in the wind, as the wrapping billows over a form, the fabric's fluttering surface serves as a mediator between our preexisting conceptions concerning a particular condition and inferences of shifting states.
Visually, the wrapping of an object reveals its essential forms as they swell beneath the fabric. Volumes and shapes lost when seen with their usually coexistant forest of details become paramount when sheathed, as in The Pont Neuf Wrapped.
The Pont Neuf Wrapped
Photo: Wolfgang Volz
Photo: AK Ciesielski
Existing cultural contextualizations associated with an object and its milieu may serve as springboards for revisional analysis when that object is veiled. The wrapping of the Reichstag raised several political and historical issues, including the failed earlier attempts at a parliamentary system of government by a unified German people. With the dismantling of the wall and the reunification of Germany, the Wrapped Reichstag serves as a sort of tabula rasa against which many questions may be posed, not just by the German people or the European community, but indeed by the entire world.
The final realization of a project by Christo and Jeanne-Claude is not the installation of a particular piece. A project is not completed until the installation is removed and the site is returned to its "normal" state. Yet that formerly inviolate condition has been forever altered by the installation and the lingering resonance it leaves behind. While the fabrics, ropes, cables, poles, and whatever other materials used in an installation will be recycled and the site returned to its pre-installation status, the uncertainties and questions raised by the Christos' efforts remain, dispersed among all those who have been engaged by the project. This process of reevaluation continues long after the project is supposedly completed. This creation of permanent states of reconsideration, instigated by work which is temporary by design, is perhaps the Christos' greatest achievement.
By Peter Blank
©1998, Stanford University
Christo and Jeanne-Claude pages edited by: Peter Blank, Art and Architecture Library, Stanford University, firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor's Note: Many thanks to Jok Church, Adam Ciesielski and
Von Wall, editors of the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Web site, for allowing us to link to their image files. Their assistance is greatly appreciated.