Visionary artist speaks at Fleming

Visualize islands off the coast of Miami surrounded by 585,000 square meters of pink fabric, or Germany’s Reichstag literally wrapped in 100,000 square meters of the same material in white. Christo, the surviving half of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the masterminds behind these massive-scale environmental art projects, indulged the UVM community with a talk Sunday, Sept. 26. “Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s work is emblematic of a major tendency in art of the last half century: an effort to leave the gallery, the museum and the living room behind and integrate the artwork into a larger world context,” art history professor Anthony Grudin said. After seeing the couple’s most recent exhibition in New York City, “The Gates,” Carolyn Elliot of Burlington was entranced by art of such size. In 2005, 7,503 orange-draped gates, at a height of 16 feet, led visitors through Central Park for 16 days, some of which stood covered in wintery white snow. “I think it’s amazing that we have someone of his stature up here,” said Elliot, who attended the talk in the Billings Student Center. Museum Director Janie Cohen introduced the Bulgarian-born artist, who was dressed in his signature long, camel-colored jacket. Parisian-born Jeanne-Claude died in November of 2009. She was a driving force behind their art and, as Christo described her, the more articulate of the two in the communication necessary to facilitate such time-consuming installations. Her flaming red hair brightened the room from photographs, and Christo continued to use “we” in reference to their art. In a narrated photo slide show of 22 realized projects, Christo expressed to the audience how arduous the task is in gaining permission, appropriate materials, engineers and paid volunteers for the creation of each idea. For “Wrapped Reichstag,” the couple made three proposals to the German government beginning in the early 1970s until approval and completion in 1995. “Christo’s talk focused on the logistical and bureaucratic challenges that he and Jeanne-Claude encountered and frequently surmounted during their extended collaboration,” Grudin said. Not all works imagined by Christo and Jeanne-Claude have made it off the page of intricately measured sketches. A total of 37 have been denied. After spending approximately $7 million in preparation, Christo and his team of workers — including engineers, architects and paid volunteers — hope their most recent proposal for “Over the River” becomes project number 23. “No benefactor, grants, industry … [it’s all funded by] our money,” Christo said. “Instead of [houses in foreign countries], we spend money on our projects.” The money is raised from the sale of sketches, drafts, models and art produced in his New York studio. These pieces are on display at the Robert Hull Fleming Museum, called the “Tom Golden Collection.” There, students and faculty can see over four decades of art by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, with the artists’ common theme of highlighting the principal proportion of objects or landscapes. “Over the River” would be an installation of almost six miles of silvery, iridescent fabric over a 40-mile stretch of the Arkansas River in south-central Colorado. Like all of their other works, it is to be experienced temporarily. During the August rafting season, this lustrous fabric will illuminate the shadows and shapes of a cloudy sky for only two weeks, ideally in 2013. After that, all materials will be deconstructed and recycled. While the installation takes place, Christo will be there, with the memory of Jeanne-Claude along every step of the way. “I like to see, to enjoy,” Christo said. “[The project] is seen as our baby, we try to go as often [as possible].”