LOEBlogger Sophie Maguire was clearly captivated by Christo, his work, and the romance underlying his partnership with Jeanne-Claude.
Seeing Christo live makes it easy to understand how he and Jeanne-Claude, his late wife and artistic partner, have brought artistic disturbances to fruition throughout the world. At the Graduate School of Design’s annual Open House lecture (part of the Rouse Visiting Artists lecture series) Christo spoke about work, love, and art to Harvard students, faculty, and prospective students; he openly refused to talk about politics and religion. His overwhelming addiction to his work was apparent in the energy and rapidness of his speech, flying through half a century’s worth of projects in less than forty-five minutes.
Since 1961 when they stacked oil barrels near the Cologne Harbor the partnership of Christo and Jeanne-Claude has taken the world by storm. The audience oooo’ed and ahhhhh’ed as Christo advanced through photographs of completed projects like the wrapped coast of Australia and the 1995 veiling of the Reichstag in Berlin, as well as projects still in process. The audience felt as if it was being let in on a secret, viewing once in a lifetime scenes.
Christo spoke in detail about his just completed Floating Piers in Lake Iseo, Italy, and two works in progress: Over the River in Colorado and the Mastaba in the United Arab Emirates. He described the “software” and the “hardware” stages of the projects: the schematic phase (soft) usually lasts several years; then engineers, ecologists, and other experts are hired to realize the second sketch (hard). The tangibility and visceral character of the projects is paramount for Christo; the art brings visitors to the interface of earth and water, nature and humanity, small and large.
Christo remembers every number associated with each project: the exact year, meters of fabric used, number of cubes needed, or length of approval process. The materials–fabric, steel, concrete, etc.–are all of industrial quality, ordered from the same manufacturers that serve big agriculture. After the projects are built, viewed, and deconstructed the materials are then sold back to the very operations for which they were originally manufactured. Christo remarked, “I am an educated Marxist.” This chain of custody however is called into question when components have to be specially fabricated, as in the case of Floating Piers, for which individual floating cubes had to be mass produced in order to complete the project.
Born on the same day of the same year, Christo in Bulgaria and Jeanne-Claude in Morocco, the pair thought of themselves as soul mates. In his lecture Christo expressed deep praise of her criticality and humor; since Jean-Claude’s death in 2009, he often finds himself wondering what she would say at a crossroads in the creative process. Perhaps as intriguing as the experience of visiting a Christo and Jeanne-Claude project is the artists’ romance. Christo recounted, as part of a tangent having to do with language, that he and Jeanne-Claude “learned to speak French while making love.” Reminiscent of the story of June Carter and Johnny Cash, the duo seemed to have a certain impenetrable kinship that served as the foundation for all of their works.
Beyond Christo’s unbounded energy is a man just going after projects that he wants to do, no matter how illogical. For what ultimately bonded him and his lover together was their capacity to be illogical. Illogical and ambitious.