Although Christo and Jeanne-Claude are perhaps most famous for their large-scale “wrappings” of things such as the Pont Neuf, the Reichstag, and a coastline off Australia, the two eschew the label that is often attributed to them in the press, saying that they have not designed a project to wrap something since 1975. The pair rejects labels of any kind, but says that they refer to their art as “art of the environment.”
At a Morse Master’s Tea Thursday, Christo and Jeanne-Claude spoke about their work together, which has spanned over four decades.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude are well known for their commitment to the purity of their art, rejecting financial contributions and insisting that all people who contribute to their projects be paid. Their funds are raised through sales of Christo’s art pieces from the 1950s and ’60s and his drawings, plans and models of the projects they design.
Christo joked that if they accepted money from other sources, they would be able to afford a Swiss chalet.
“Instead, in 1991 we spent $26 million to build umbrellas,” Christo said, referring to “The Umbrellas,” a Japan-U.S. project of 1991 in which the two installed 20-foot umbrellas in Ibaraki, Japan and in California. 1,340 blue umbrellas were installed in Japan and 1,760 yellow umbrellas were installed in California.
They are intensely committed to their work, and often spend years planning and trying to get approval for their large-scale projects.
The artists’ temporary installations in both urban and rural settings are attempts to “gently disturb” the natural surroundings so that their beauty can be more fully appreciated, Jeanne-Claude said.
“We wish to create works of art of joy and beauty — which have no purpose at all,” Christo said.
The two have devoted their lives to the successful completion of their projects. While they have received 18 permits for their projects, the two said that they have received 38 denials, and the fight for a permit is often a long battle. For instance, the permit for “Wrapped Reichstag” took over 20 years to procure.
One of the ideas central to Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s vision is that the installations — which usually last two weeks — not disturb the environment once they are removed. Most of the materials are recycled.
“We’re the cleanest artists in the world,” Christo said.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude have been working together since the late 1950s when they met in Paris. Christo was already exhibiting packages and wrapped objects locally and was supplementing his income by painting portraits of the Parisian elite, one of whom happened to be Jeanne-Claude’s mother.
Their level of commitment to their work, and perhaps also the trials that they must go through, makes the two considerably attached to their projects. They quote statistics about their works as a parent might proudly talk about his child.
In Nov. 1998, for instance, the pair installed the “Wrapped Trees” project in Riehen, Switzerland. 178 trees were wrapped with 592,034 feet and 14.35 miles of rope. The fabric was fitted with 90-foot zippers, and 36 rock climbers were used to install the wrappings.
Currently, Christo and Jeanne-Claude are involved in the planning of two projects, “Over the River” and “The Gates.” “Over The River” will be an installation of fabric panels over the Arkansas River in Colorado. “The Gates” project would install 16-foot-high gates along the walkways of Central Park.
Neither project has yet received a permit, but Christo and Jeanne-Claude said that they will focus on whichever project proves more likely to be approved. They said that the earliest either project would be installed is 2004. Despite the delays inherent to their artistic vision, the two remain devoted artists.
“It is our joy and pleasure to do what we want, where we want, how we want, but not always when we want,” Jeanne-Claude said.