Sep 27, 2011

PROFILE | Christo and Jeanne-Claude

Wrapped Trees, Fondation Beyeler and Berower Park, Riehen, Switzerland, 1997-98

While doing research for a class assignment, I recently came across the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude and was thrilled to have discovered their work.  Their ability to combine their art with the already enchanting scenery of nature makes for some really breathtaking large-scale artworks. Although the window of opportunity to view their work is limited (none of their works remain in place for much longer than about 2 weeks) the scenery where the works were placed will always remain, allowing the viewer to still see and feel the artworks in their minds when returning to the site.

The artists have completed only 22 projects, while 37 projects never received approval. Some of their projects were refused for years before they were completed, including their work “Wrapped Trees”, which took 32 years to complete. Trying for over 30 years to accomplish an artwork that will only remain in place for about 2 weeks is some serious dedication.  Not to mention the entire costs of all their artwork is paid for by the artists themselves through the sale of Christo’s early works and preparatory studies. They never accept grants or scholarships of any kind.

Wrapped Trees, Fondation Beyeler and Berower Park, Riehen, Switzerland, 1997-98

Their unique style of “wrapping” is a seemingly simple idea that brings a cutting-edge technique to the art world. For the work “Wrapped Trees”, 178 trees were wrapped with thousands of square feet of woven polyester fabric, and over 14 miles of rope to create an exquisite environment. Something I believe is a really ingenious aspect of their artwork is the variety of ways the work can be viewed and look like a completely different piece of art depending on the time of day, weather, ect. For example, the lighting while viewing “Wrapped Trees” at dusk gives the trees a pleasant, translucent look, but while viewing the work in the snow, the trees take on the look of these massive, mythical structures.

The Umbrellas, Japan-USA, 1984-91

Although the artists “wrapping” technique is probably the most well known, they are not limited to this style of artwork.  Other works like “Running Fence”, “The Umbrellas”, and “Surrounded Islands” demonstrate a few other unique ideas for combining nature with art. “The Umbrellas” was a 26 million dollar project where 3,100 blue and yellow umbrellas dotted the hills and landscape of two different sites, one in California and one in Japan. This piece reflected the similarities and differences in ways of life and use of the land at these two sites. Imagine driving through the beautiful rolling hills of California and then coming up on thousands of yellow umbrellas decorating the land. Especially if you were unaware of the art project, seeing all these bright yellow umbrellas unexpectedly would be a truly breath-taking experience.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s purpose for their art is just to simply be art. They deny that their work has any underlying meaning and its purpose is just to bring people joy and allow viewers to see familiar landscapes in a new and creative way and I think their work does just that. Though the scale and time put into the projects is not by any means “simple”, the end result is always a humble, yet elegant twist to something that already was.

-Sarah Shackelford


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  2. Apparently one of the umbrellas blew away and killed somebody. Maybe that's the universe saying "hey, that landscape was fine as is."
    -Robert Wingfield