Yesterday I had the great privilege of listening to Christo and Jeanne-Claude talk about their work, and afterwards actually meet them. As a couple they are as fascinating as their art works. Two beautiful people with an extraordinary vision. They are a delight to listen to. Like great performers they know their lines well, and have developed impeccable timing. They play the audience like puppetmasters, yet for all that they are open, and surprisingly candid about the intimate details of how their work comes to fruition.
Sydney has always felt a great warmth for them both. It is a relationship of long duration. Sydney was the location of their first large scale environmental art performance back in 1969. Often called Wrapped Coast, they wrapped 2.4 km of Sydney cliffs in 90,000 square meters of erosion control fabric and 56 km of rope. The world of art was never the same again.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude spoke of the long process, often taking decades between conception and realization of the idea. They head a large organization of specialists like engineers as they plan and execute the work. Their current project is the River project for the Arkansas River. It involves wind tunnel tests, geological surveys, community consultations, negotiations with corporate land owners, and more. They said they have spent 5 million dollars on the project already. They are perversely proud of the fact that they are the first artists in history to have to submit environment impact statements in order to get approval for their art work. The EIS for the Rivers project ran to 2,900 pages.
It is art working like none other in history, although it does bring to mind the huge bureaucratic machinery mobilized by the Pharaohs to make the huge artworks of their time. It is teamwork on a grand scale.