Monday, June 13, 2011

The John and Yoko of Modern Art

Today marks the 76th birthday of one of the great artists of our time, Christo Vladimirov Javacheff - more commonly known as "Christo".

I first became aware of Christo back in the late 70's after seeing the wonderful documentary "Running Fence" by the Maysles brothers. If you have no idea who Christo is, I suggest that you begin with this film because it really gives you a sense of what his work is all about.  A Christo piece is usually a temporary installation such as a fence, banner, or drape constructed on top of a particular structure or landscape. The sculpture seeks to interact with its environment by hiding certain features while highlighting others, and dynamically changing in response to changes in  environmental conditions. Often, these sculptures are quite expansive in size and require careful engineering to be produced.

For example, Running Fence was an 18 foot-high fence constructed of white nylon fabric supported by cables and steel posts that followed 25 miles of hills and valleys in Northern California on its way to the Pacific Ocean.  From a distance, the fence caught the rays of the sun throughout the day creating a beautiful ribbon of light running along the contours of the landscape.  But the physical sculpture itself, as beautiful as it was, was only one element of the piece.  When you watch the documentary, you begin to understand that Christo is really using his art to engage with the public in the broadest possible way; from early concept, through funding and regulatory approvals, design, construction by volunteers, maintenance, and disassembly, you learn that his work is all about how people interact with art and the artist.  And when you watch Christo get up in front of an audience of ranchers, city officials, and concerned citizens to defend his project, it is impossible not to fall in love with his energy, sincerity, and dynamic personality.  And he looks like an artist should look.

photo by Wolfgang Volz

And if that is not enough to make you love Christo, then I will point out that his relationship with Jeanne-Claude, his wife, is one of the greatest love stories in modern art. Born on the exact same day in different countries, they met at the age of 23 when Christo left Bulgaria to live in Paris as a refugee.  They met and fell in love, but Jeanne-Claude was engaged to another and her parents did not approve of Christo and insisted that the marriage plans be carried out.  They probably did not know that she was already pregnant with Christo's child on the day of the wedding.  After only one week, Jeanne-Claude left her new husband and fled back to Christo, never to leave his side until the day she died in 2009.  Working as a team, they created some of the most unique, dramatic, and inspirational art of the 20th century.   

photo by Andy Carvin via Flickr

1 comment:

  1. That looks incredible. I am seriously impressed right now … Gate Factory