BEHIND EVERY GREAT MAN THERE’S A GREAT WOMAN, AND VICE VERSA: THE MEMORIES BETWEEN LAND ART AND BOOKS OF CHRISTO AND JEANNE-CLAUDE, THE ARTISTS SPOUSES WHO WRAPPED THE WORLD
Text by Fiammetta Cesana
The history of art teaches us that when love intrudes into the creative process the result is the power of an indissoluble binomial. Frida and Diego, Marc and Bella, John and Yoko, Salvador and Amanda, Patty and Robert…
It can’t be said they were easy loves. But who cares of an easy passion or an easy art?
What we are celebrating today, the story of art and love of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, has nothing of “easy”, but of extraordinary memories has filled dozens of books. Looking forward to the retrospective exhibition “Christo et Jeanne-Claude, Paris!”, in fact, the German publishing house Taschen recalls the relationship of deep professional connection and friendship with the couple of artists that has expressed itself over the years in the publication of over thirty books.
Recently passed away, Christo had said goodbye to his wife and colleague as early as 2009 due to her illness, but he managed to carry on the “The Floating Piers” project on Lake Iseo in Lombardy, which gave visitors the illusion of walking on water thanks to a path of floating pontoons (see the picture below), and which he had designed with his beloved Jeanne-Claude. They will be remembered forever as masters of Land Art, the contemporary artistic movement born in the United States at the end of the 60s which sees the artist’s intervention on the surrounding environment by making it an integral part of the opera itself.
Both born on June 13, 1935, under the constellation of Gemini, and they truly were so, gifted with monumental creativity, thanks to the air zodiac sign, leading them to the realization of “unthinkable” works, and tied with each other in an essential, symbiotic way. He was Bulgarian, she was born in Casablanca in Morocco, they met in Paris after Christo was forced to flee on a truck from Stalin’s totalitarian regime. At the time he earned by making portraits, Jeanne-Claude in fact asked him to portray her mother. Although a great feeling immediately raised between the two, the conditions for the birth of a love story seemed almost non-existent, since she was engaged and he was dating her sister, Joyce. But as we all know love always finds its way, the two began a secret relationship, until Jeanne-Claude decided to get married anyway. The marriage did not last long, during the honeymoon she realized she was expecting Christo’s son, Cyril.
And so theirs became a real love project. “Christo and Jeanne-Claude” is indeed the name of the artistic project of the two visionary spouses. He worked on the idea and the design, while she took care of the realization through the necessary permits and the involvement of engineers and workmen. They have always self-financed by selling their designs and scale models. And that’s no small feat, considering that their works had the size of… entire islands. In fact, what Christo began to develop is the “empaquetage” technique, starting to cover paint cans with canvases, up to the point of wrapping statues, monuments, bridges and archipelagos. The idea is to hide and at the same time enhance what is covered, a double-edged censorship that inevitably arouses curiosity and interest in the eyes of the observer. Critics have long discussed in the attempt to give a univocal interpretation to their works, but at the end, as for any great love, giving explanations is useless if not impossible. However, what can be unequivocally claimed is that their artistic approach is the expression of a personal moment which, thanks to the transformation of the real world into a canvas, becomes a collective experience. The container thus becomes the content, and a packed parliament’s building turns into the question behind political and social role in our history. Then the answer is rigorously free, up to personal judgement.
Their operas include “Le Rideau de Fer” in which in 1961, protesting against the recent rise of the Berlin wall, the two blocked a road nearby the Seine with 89 barrels of oil. It wasn’t easy at all to obtain permissions for the construction of the “curtain”, but Christo and Jean-Claude carried it out anyway, demonstrating from the very beginning their incomparable persistence. The devotion to one another was in fact on a par with that towards the artistic project: when they had to make long journeys they usually took different flights in the event that one of them had had an accident the other could have completed the work.
In 1964 the couple moved to America. In the following years the public witnessed the achievement of “Surrounded Islands” in 1983, which covered the eleven islands of Biscayne Bay in Miami with a flashy pink canvas; maybe as a tribute to the American “glamor” dream?
Then there were the packaging of the Pont Neuf in Paris in 1985, of the Reichstag in Berlin at the end of the cold war in 1995, and the construction in 2005 of “The Gates” in Central Park in New York, an orange pathway made up of over seven thousand arcades.
It was, however, with the yellow bridges connecting Lake Iseo’s islands in 2016, that their vision definitely exceeded the limits of the ordinary. Carried out by Christo alone, the work made us live the sublimation of artistic expression, that spectacular experience that goes beyond the relentless flow of life, letting us have a glimpse over reason and sensitive knowledge. Something that only great artists can reach. The mysticism of walking on water therefore unites visitors in the art of the two lovers, where the spirit of Jeanne-Claude continues to live in the accomplishment of the impossible imaginary of their project.
Even now that both masters no longer belong to this world, their dreamful art production keeps them with us by still living and going wrapping. Waiting for the opening of the exhibition “Christo et Jeanne-Claude, Paris!” at Center Pompidou on July 1, 2020, and also for the realization of the work “L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped”, on view in Paris from September 18 to October 3, 2021, all the couple’s works from the earliest days until to date are told and illustrated in the long series of Taschen books.
To find them out, visit: Taschen.com