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