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Christo, Jeanne-Claude's Art Helps People See Their Surroundings in New Ways


The artists spend years planning and raising money for their huge outdoor art projects.  Transcript of radio broadcast

VOICE ONE:

I'm Bob Doughty.

VOICE TWO:

And I'm Faith Lapidus with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today we learn about the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude. This husband and wife team has been making large temporary outdoor art projects in city and rural environments for over forty years.

The artists create these imaginative and striking works for their beauty and magic and to make people see the artwork's environment in new ways. They work with city, state and federal officials for years to get permission to make their projects. And, they hire a team of permanent workers as well as hundreds of temporary workers to make their artistic visions a reality.

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VOICE ONE:

Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon was born on June thirteenth, nineteen thirty-five to French parents living in Morocco. Christo Vladimirov Javacheff was born on that same day in Bulgaria. Christo studied art at universities in Bulgaria and Austria. Jeanne-Claude studied philosophy and Latin at the University of Tunis in Tunisia.

VOICE TWO:

The two met in nineteen fifty-eight in Paris, France when Christo was hired to paint a portrait of Jeanne-Claude's mother. At the time, Christo was making very modern artwork in which he would wrap objects with paper, plastic or fabric. But these works did not sell well. So Christo took other jobs to support himself financially, including painting portraits of people.

By nineteen sixty, Christo and Jeanne-Claude had a son, Cyril.

VOICE ONE:

Their first art project together was called "Dockside Packages". They built it in nineteen sixty-one in the harbor in Cologne, Germany. The work was made up of several layers of oil barrels covered in heavy cloth and secured with rope. The work remained in place for two weeks.

VOICE TWO:

Jeanne-Claude has explained that the temporary quality of their work is a very purposeful design choice. She says that humans love things that do not last, such as childhood and life. She says by making their art impermanent, they give it an urgency that makes people want to see and enjoy it. She has used a rainbow as an example. Rainbows are all the more wonderful because they do not last.

VOICE ONE:

The couple has worked on many other projects that involve wrapping buildings or monuments. For example, in nineteen sixty-eight they covered the Kunsthalle in Bern, Switzerland with three thousand meters of rope and over two thousand square meters of plastic. The museum remained wrapped for one week.

About a year later, they wrapped the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Illinois in a brownish green plastic. The artists decided this color would look striking against the surrounding snow.

VOICE TWO:

In nineteen seventy-nine, the couple and over one hundred and ten workers wrapped a two point four kilometer long coastal area of Little Bay, Australia. The project remained in place for seven weeks.

By covering up or adding cloth to familiar buildings and natural formations, the artists get people to think about the objects being wrapped in new and different ways.

VOICE ONE:

All of their environmental art projects include a date in the title of the work. The years show how long the project took to plan from its very beginning to its creation.

For example, Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped the Pont Neuf Bridge in Paris, France in nineteen eighty-five. But the period listed in the title of the work is "nineteen seventy-five to nineteen eighty-five." This date shows that it took ten years to get permission, gather materials and then build the project. Sometimes the artists stop working on one project when they receive official permission to build a different project.

VOICE TWO:

Sometimes the artists fail to receive the permission they need to build the project. Then a few years later, they try again with better success. But some projects never receive permission. The artists estimate they have built nineteen out of thirty-seven of their proposed ideas.

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VOICE ONE:

Christo and Jeanne-Claude do not accept public or private money to make any of their art. They raise the millions of dollars it costs to build each project by selling Christo's early works and drawings of early and recent projects. The artists say they do not accept any money from organizations or private donors because they want total artistic freedom. They say this keeps their art pure.

VOICE TWO:

Not all of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's works involve covering an object. "Running Fence" was built in nineteen seventy-six in California. The artists designed a forty-kilometer long fence made from heavy white cloth. The fence continued over the hills and valleys of private land owned by fifty-nine farmers. It looked like a white snake flowing over the land and ending in the sea. The artists worked with landowners and officials for three and one-half years to complete this project. It remained in place for two weeks.

VOICE ONE:

In nineteen eighty-three, Christo and Jeanne-Claude completed their "Surrounded Islands" project in Biscayne Bay in the center of Miami, Florida. They surrounded the coastline of eleven small islands with over five hundred thousand square meters of bright pink cloth. They chose this color to go with the bright green of the islands and the bright blue of the Miami sky.

VOICE TWO:

Most recently, Christo and Jeanne-Claude created "The Gates" in two thousand five. This project made New York City's Central Park come alive with seven thousand gate structures topped with flowing orange cloth. To many people, these works are beautiful, magical and exciting in the way they change an environment.

VOICE ONE:

However, critics of the projects worry that they will harm the natural environment. The artists work very hard to make sure their art is carefully put into place. The materials are reused once the projects are taken down.

Other critics do not believe the projects are works of art. Christo and Jeanne-Claude are not afraid of hearing from their critics. These energetic public discussions about art show the power of the projects.

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VOICE TWO:

The couple's most recent work in progress is called "Over the River." Their plan is to place stretches of silver fabric over sixty kilometers of the Arkansas River in the state of Colorado. The artists spoke recently at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. The museum has organized an exhibit about "Over the River" with many of Christo's drawings of the river project.

CHRISTO: "All the work here, they are original works of art. I do it with my own hands. I do not have assistants. They reflect the evolution visually and technically of the project. The very first sketches, they're more schematic … less close to the reality because many information, we do not have. But through the exhibit you can see many of the studies become more close to how the project will look."

VOICE ONE:

Jeanne-Claude says that the influence for this project came when the couple was placing fabric on the Pont Neuf Bridge over the Seine River in Paris.

JEANNE-CLAUDE: "What we had seen was shiny fabric in mid-air, the sun shining through it and reflecting on the water of the river Seine. Fabric, horizontal, shining, reflection on the water. You think that could be Over the River?"

VOICE TWO:

To realize this project, Jeanne-Claude and Christo first had to choose the right river. Over several years in the early nineteen nineties, they drove thousands of kilometers in the western part of the United States. They were looking for a stretch of river that met their requirements. The river needed a road alongside it. It had to have high banks so that the cloth could be stretched above the river. And the river had to have both smooth and rough waters. The artists want visitors to be able to experience the project from the road, by foot, or by floating down the river on a raft.

CHRISTO: "The most difficult part is to get permission. Everything in the world is owned by somebody."

VOICE ONE:

In this case, the United States government owns the land. Many meetings with local, state and federal officials are required to get the necessary permission for the project.

JEANNE-CLAUDE: "All the preparation and all the work and all the process that leads to the permit, all that process is very important. It is part of the work of art."

VOICE TWO:

Jeanne-Claude explains that it is like the nine months it takes for a baby to develop. She notes that the nine-month period is not the aim of having the baby. But the process is still very important.

VOICE ONE:

Christo and Jeanne-Claude have another work in progress called "The Mastaba" to be built in the United Arab Emirates. This one hundred fifty meter tall monument is to be made up of over four hundred thousand oil barrel containers. The couple started planning the project in nineteen seventy-seven. This shows that Christo and Jeanne-Claude have the patience to match their creativity and artistic vision.

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VOICE TWO:

This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I'm Faith Lapidus.

VOICE ONE:

And I'm Bob Doughty. You can see pictures of some of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's works at our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for Explorations in VOA Special English.

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