Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Gift To Detroit
del Valle for Real Detroit Weekly
So, I don’t believe the artists are controversial in any sense other than by the scale of their work. In fact, they have often denied their art has any meaning beyond itself.
"For them, the purpose of their art has been to simply give new perspective to familiar landscapes, to refresh and draw attention to these sites — even their overly familiar urban-scapes. Their art, which is so strong and majestic, rejects any meaning beyond itself. Perhaps, that's where its power lies and builds upon itself. It’s pure." (from Wikipedia)
Finally, if ciyrse, it is more than just an
exhibition. It is the only possible forum to a lifetime of art. Albeit, by
proxy through photographs and prints. One of the beauties of this exhibit
is that it reflects the artists’ entire life.
was the negotiator, the organizer, the arbiter. She was tough, yes. They
were both focused and totally occupied on pushing through their next
project in Colorado (Over the River, a 40 mile canopy over the
Arkansas River.) I had approached them before, first for a donation for
our auction when we moved to Detroit’s Book Building in 2001 (they donated
a framed signed original); next, I approached them for a piece to enter
into the museum’s permanent collection: Gratis. They were the first to
donate a piece (out of a final total of 200 artists), a small wrapped
package that will also be on exhibit.
There was a great tribute in London’s The Guardian:
The flame-haired artist Jeanne-Claude — or Mrs. Christo, as she sometimes called herself — worked with her husband to mummify the Pont Neuf, to envelop a string of Miami islands in flamingo-pink nylon, to bind the German Reichstag building in aluminum fabric and to erect 7,503 billowing, saffron “gates” in Central Park, New York. She has died aged 74, from complications of a brain aneurysm suffered after a fall.
Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon was born in Casablanca, Morocco, where her father, a French general, was stationed at the time. She was born on exactly the same day as her husband and collaborator, Christo Javacheff. “Both of us at the same hour,” Jeanne-Claude liked to say, “but, thank God, two different mothers.” She often acted as spokesperson for the pair, explaining that as “twins,” they had an almost symbiotic relationship and spoke in one voice (usually hers). “Sometimes we would both have the same idea at the same time,” she marveled. She was much more than simply his muse or manager. Until 1994, all their artworks bore only Christo’s name, apparently because they thought it would be easier for one artist to become established, but since then the pair have shared the credit. It was entirely her idea, Christo said after the fact, to create Surrounded Islands (1980-83), which used six metered square-feet of pink fabric to outline an archipelago in Miami as if with a highlighter pen. Christo retroactively corrected the record and now they are acknowledged as joint authors of every outdoor installation they plotted from 1961 onwards. That year Christo proposed the wrapping of their first building, the École Militaire in Paris (perhaps an Oedipal proposition on Jeanne-Claude’s part).
Who among contemporaries (or among the rising number of new artists) could be likened as their peers?
I don’t think any other artists have touched their continuity of scale, project after project ... and their ability to push these projects through to the end. I see them as a bit of Gordon Matta-Clark with his “building cuts” when it comes to their urban work, such as the Wrapped Reichstag (Berlin — 1995), the Pont Neuf (Paris — 1985), or the Gates (New York — 2005); and a bit of Robert Smithson’s earthwork Spiral Jetty (Utah — 1970) with such land art as their Valley Curtain (1972) to Surrounded Islands (Florida — 1983).
Unlike these others (save Matta-Clark), Christo and Jeanne-Claude didn’t construct their art in some distant location. They often wrapped, surrounded, gated and stacked in heavily populated areas. They weren’t desert mystics in that sense. I think these other artists were a bit pretentious in that sense, building work they hoped to be permanent additions to their disturbed landscapes. Of course, there are several of their contemporaries who have mounted enormous earthworks, such as Michael Heizer’s City in Nevada, and James Turrell’s Roden Crater in Arizona. But large as each of these projects may be, they all shrink in singular scale to the sheer number of projects created in four decades by Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
How does such an important exhibit come about in a long struggling museum in a long struggling city like Detroit? What specifically brought about this Christo and Jeanne-Claude exhibition?
To allow such an exhibit depends first on a space to hang it. The Russell Industrial Center was ideal. It makes a perfect statement about Detroit’s ability to reinvent itself without destroying its past. And the staff at R.I.C. have bent over backwards. And the same goes for the space in Pontiac. The Museum of New Art has been home there for five years now, with six galleries in the Oakland Arts Center. Also, as official framer for the museum, PF Galleries in Clawson has generously framed a number of the prints.
For the last year, the Museum of New Art has been organizing swaps — artist exchanges with other cities and countries. The notion was to break out of Detroit and exhibit our visual art in other major cities. (Kind of what’s happened with the recent music scene here. To a great degree, it’s still better known in other places, even London and Berlin, than at home. But eventual knowledge of this music also brought real respect and interest to home.)
That was the idea for the exchanges: we’d export Detroit art, and import from other more visibly established markets. The test run was Chicago. That was a fantastic experience. Then I thought, why not Europe and Asia? But the museum has never had any real funding. Which has always made us creative and on our toes with any challenge.
Solution this time: works on paper (photographs, drawings, rolled paintings, etc.). Inexpensive to ship, and so very doable. And we did it. The shipment to Beijing (all of it rolled into a tube) cost us just $299. And Detroit artists had an exhibition in this huge Chinese gallery. And some of China’s most important contemporary artists (like the Zhou Brothers) exhibited in Detroit.
The spin-off from the Detroit show in Berlin was having the German national TV show Aspekte send over a producer to film and cover the cultural scene in Detroit. The Detroiter show in Austria was the trigger that brought over Gerald Matt, director of the contemporary museum in Vienna. While here, he visited over a dozen Detroit artists’ studios and is planning a Detroit show for that museum (Kunsthalle Wien) for late 2010. So, that project has worked better than imagined. All the outside galleries were excited to come to Detroit: and Berlin and Bregenz pulled together the money to fly over their artists. And the Detroit artists got to fly to Berlin (thanks to a generous grant from Daimler Financial Services), and attend their own opening there.
That was stage one: get Detroit art visibly out there into other markets. Stage two: was to get the rest of the world to turn a positive eye directly on both Detroit and onto its arts community — to get us where we live. Most other major art markets have some sort of art prize ... I decided to revive the Prinzhorn (2005) — as a way to honor six important artists currently influential, and to honor “one” among them with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Christo and Jeanne-Claude were a no-brainer. The most recent triumph of their long career was when New York's Mayor Bloomberg gave them the go-ahead for The Gates project in Central Park. This only expanded their already tremendous reputations. No artist since Andy Warhol has been so visible to the American public, so much a household name. They were on the 6 p.m. news across the country for two weeks, and even in the late night monologues.
Undoubtedly, the Christo and Jeanne-Claude
exhibition - the couple's first ever in Detroit - was the museum's
greatest challenge and it's greatest triumph to date. This upstart
Museum of New Art, this "pipsqueak of an institution", this artist-run
hole in the wall, was able to trump the city's other larger, more
prestigious institutions; and, in so doing, has "cast a shadow across
them". But in a positive way, as a challenge to do larger and brighter
things themselves and, most important, to become more involved with
their own art community, to see it as a strength not a nuisance, and to
support what its own artists have to offer, both to the city as well as
to the art world at large. | RDW
Christo and Jeanne-Claude Projects:
1961 - Project for the Wrapping of a
Stacked Oil Barrels and Dockside
1962 - Iron Curtain-Wall of Oil Barrels,
1966 - 42,390 Cubicfeet Package
1968 - Wrapped Fountain and Tower, Spoleto.
5,600 Cubicmeter Package,
1969 - Wrapped Museum,
1970 - Wrapped Monuments, Milano
1972 - Valley Curtain,
1974 - Wrapped Roman Wall, 1973
1976 - Running Fence,
1977 - The Mastaba, Project for UAE in progress.
1978 - Wrapped
1983 - Surrounded
1985 - The Pont Neuf Wrapped,
1991 - The Umbrellas, Japan-U.S.A., 1984
1992 - Over The River, Project for
1995 - Wrapped
1998 - Wrapped Trees,
1999 - The Wall, 13,000 Oil Barrels, Gasometer,
2005 - The Gates,