Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Art of Christo and Jeanne-Claude

With great sadness the world was given the news of Jeanne-Claude's passing at age 74 on November 18 due to complications of a brain aneurysm. Within hours however a heartfelt statement from Christo, the surviving husband and half of the artistic team Christo and Jeanne-Claude, was published on their website. In it he commits "to honor the promise they made to each other many years ago: The art of Christo and Jeanne-Claude will continue."

Best known in California for projects such as “Running Fence” (Sonoma and Marin Counties, 1972-76) and “The Umbrellas” (two 60+ mile spans, one north of Tokyo, the other north of Los Angeles, 1975-85), the artists worked collaboratively for years under the single name Christo, finally changing their artistic signature in 1994 to Christo and Jeanne-Claude. In total, they shared fifty years of collaboration, working 10-16 hour days, turning their ideas for projects of unimaginable scale and beauty into reality.

What began with Christo wrapping small objects, then oil drums, lead to the wrapping of trees, buildings and bridges. Their reputation as people who "wrap" things followed, despite numerous large scale works with little to do with that technique. Take, for example, “Valley Curtain,” “Surrounded Islands,” and most recently “Fences,” which brought millions of visitors to New York City's Central Park during the last two weeks of February 2005. As Vadim Rizov wrote of the two, beyond the wrapping, “a bigger part of their projects was rendering the familiar temporarily strange, whether by covering a bridge's familiar outlines in fabric or by transforming it into an ominous new bulk.”

The San Francisco Public Library has many items related to Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Most unique is an Artists File complete with over a hundred newspaper articles on the artists. Over half relate to 'The Umbrellas' project and include not only SF articles, but a commemorative issue of the Bakersfield Californian, project maps and drawings, as well as the actual material swatches used in the umbrella construction. Also included is coverage of visits to the Bay Area, local lectures, as well as an article speculating that Coit Tower might be used as an installation site.

If interested in learning more about the artists, the library has the following books and videos:

The Running Fence Project by Christo; text by Werner Spies; photographs by Wolfgang Volz; translated from the German by Kathleen Cheesmond. (H. N. Abrams, 1977).

Running fence [videorecording]: Christo's project for Sonoma and Marin Counties, State of California, 1972-76; a film by David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin, & Albert Maysles. (Maysles Films, 1990).

Christo, Running Fence: Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-1976; photographs by Gianfranco Gorgoni; chronicle by Calvin Tomkins; narrative text by David Bourdon. (Abrams, 1978).

The Accordion-Fold Book for the Umbrellas, Joint Project for Japan and U.S.A by Christo; photography by Wolfgang Volz; foreword and interview by Masahiko Yanagi. (Bedford Arts, 1991).

Christo and Jeanne-Claude: On The Way to the Gates, Central Park, New York City by Jonathan Fineberg; with photographs by Wolfgang Volz. (Yale University Press, 2004).

Christo, Complete Editions, 1964-1982: Catalogue Raisonné and Introduction by Per Hovdenakk (New York University Press, 1982).

Christo: The Reichstag and Urban Projects, edited by Jacob Baal-Teshuva; photography by Wolfgang Volz. (Munich: te Neues Pub. Co., 1993).

Islands [videorecording]; a Carl Flach Jeanne-Claude presentation; a film by David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin, & Albert Maysles. (Maysles Films, 1986).

Two Youtube videos capture the controversy and sensation that the Running Fence project made in 1976.

An excerpt from the Mayles Films documentary, Running Fence.

Super 8 home movie footage of "Running Fence" with still bemused commentary.

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