EXPIRED: 11/18/09 – Jeanne-Claude, 74, who collaborated with her husband, Christo Javacheff, on massive – and often controversial – art undertakings like ‘The Gates,’ an environmental art installation of 7,503 vinyl gates with saffron-colored nylon panels in NY’s Central Park. The pair believed “the only way to see it is to build it.” And build it, they did.
Jeanne-Claude met Christo in 1958 when he was already making art by ‘wrapping’ furniture and odd construction materials. In ‘62, they responded to the construction of the Berlin Wall by block a tiny street in Paris, Rue Visconti, with an installation called “Wall of Oil Barrels, Iron Curtain,” They stalled human passage on the pedestrian street for hours, causing quite a commotion and getting recognized internationally.
After this they set their sights bigger and headed to the US, relocating to New York in ’64 to think up something more theatrical. No statue or building was, it seemed, too large to be shrouded in fabric. They wrapped the Kunsthalle in Bern, the Reichstag in Berlin, and a million square feet of coastline near Sydney, Australia.
Although wrapping remained the couple’s signature, they staged other environmental projects and public displays. In ’68 at Kassel, Germany, they used 2 giant cranes to erect an inflated cylindrical fabric “package,” that resembled a stretched-out Michelin Man nearly 280 feet tall. In ’83 they spread pink fabric around 11 islands in Miami’s Biscayne Bay. And in ’91, they placed thousands of yellow and blue umbrellas across miles undulating valleys in Japan and California.
There was resistance, however. Many critics dismissed their work as mere stunts. Local officials often worried about the potential negative environmental impact of their projects. But the public usually loved it.
For example, “The Gates” installed in Central Park in 2005, attracted more than five million viewers during the two week installation. In an interview conducted after this project concluded, she stated, “Artists don’t retire, they die.”
All of Jeanne-Claude and Christo’s projects were intended to be temporary. She once said that their art expressed, “the quality of love and tenderness that we human beings have for what does not last.” Her latest project, Over The River, remains unfinished. In it the couple planned to suspend 7 miles of fabric high above Arkansas River in Colorado for two weeks during the summer of 2013.
Christo, also 74 (they were born on the same day of the same year), plans to see it thru as an homage to his partner.