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Christo and Jeanne-Claude Exhibit and Lecture in Pensacola
By Kate Peterson

The Anna Lamar Switzer Center for Visual Arts on the Pensacola State College campus, as part of the Distinguished Artists series, welcomes the artist Christo, and the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

Inside the confines of the oddly shaped buildings at the corner of Ninth Avenue and Airport Boulevard in Pensacola is an art exhibition of international importance. The works have been on display in only three other cities in the United States. The exhibit, titled “Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Prints and Objects,” was organized by the Metropolitan State College in Denver and is on display at Pensacola State College until March 25. The exhibit includes Christo’s conceptual drawings of their collaborative environmental installations.

“This exhibition and visit from Christo is an indicator of the leadership role the Switzer Center Gallery is playing in the Visual and Cultural Arts. This is our gift to this wonderful community,” said Vivian Spencer, Gallery Director for the Visual Arts Department.

Christo Vladimirov Javacheff was born in Gabrovo, Bulgaria. From 1953-1956, he attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Sofia, where his mother had been secretary. In 1958, Christo moved to Paris, lost his Bulgarian citizenship and met his future wife, Jeanne-Claude.

Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon was born in Casablanca, Morocco. She earned a baccalaureate in Latin and philosophy at Tunis University in Tunisia.

Destiny may have played a part in their union. Christo and Jeanne-Claude were born on the same day, in the same year and at the same time of day. They met while he was painting a portrait of her mother. Unfortunately, Jeanne-Claude was engaged to someone else. And, at first, Christo was smitten with Jeanne-Claude’s sister. Eventually, everyone went his or her own way, and Christo and Jeanne-Claude became a couple in 1958. They have one son, Cyril, born in 1960.

The work had very auspicious beginnings, quickly gaining international recognition and fame.

In 1961, Christo created “Dockside Packages”, a one-month show at the Haro Lauhus Gallery in Cologne, Germany. Concurrently, Christo and Jeanne-Claude initiated their first collaborative work of art, using several oil barrels, covering them with tarpaulins and securing them with ropes. It would not be until 1994 that Jeanne-Claude would receive retrospective equal credit for their collective works of art.

Over the next half a century, Christo and Jeanne-Claude created a number of notable works:

“Running Fence”, completed in September 1976, was an 18-foot-high, 24-and-a-half-mile-long white nylon fence, running along the countryside in Sonoma and Marin Counties, Calif. It remained in place for two weeks.

“Surrounded Islands” was completed in Biscayne Bay in Miami, Fla., in 1983. Consisting of 6.5 million square feet of pink woven fabric surrounding 11 islands and extending 200 feet from each island into the bay, this installation also lasted two weeks once installed.

In 1985, “The Pont-Neuf Wrapped” was completed with the help of many employees and volunteers. The artists wrapped the 2,000-year-old bridge, Pont-Neuf, in the heart of Paris, using a golden sandstone fabric and securing it with ropes.

An international project simultaneously installed in Ibaraki, Japan, and Tejon Pass, Calif., “The Umbrellas”, was completed in 1991, remaining on display for two weeks. 1,340 blue umbrellas were made and installed in Ibaraki, and 1,760 yellow umbrellas were erected in Tejon Pass. Each umbrella was 28-and-a-half feet in diameter and weighed 448 pounds.

“Wrapped Reichstag” in Berlin, Germany, was completed in 1995 after the artists struggled for 24 years to get approval. In the 1930s the building served as the house of parliament for the German Empire. For two weeks the building was wrapped with silver fabric secured with ropes.

After a 26-year quest, “The Gates” in Central Park, New York City was completed in 2005. The work consisted of 7,503 saffron-colored, fabric-covered structures, each 16 feet high, stretching for 23 miles. The concept for “The Gates” sprang out of an idea the original Central Park landscape architects had in 1856 to install steel gates and lock the park every night.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude paid for all of their installation pieces through sales of Christo’s renderings of the vision.

And, not to be taken too seriously, as part of the permanent collection of the Charles M. Schultz Museum dedicated to the creator of the comic strip “Peanuts”, there is a whimsical work by Christo which depicts Snoopy’s doghouse wrapped.

Over 50 years, Christo and Jeanne-Claude conceptualized 40 or so works on paper, although only 19 of those projects have been realized. The reasons vary, from rejection to the artists’ loss of interest. Each work realized built momentum for the next.

All of the works are meant to be temporary. Both felt that people care more for something that is short lived. It makes a stronger impact on the viewer, and the effects are long lasting. Many people have the misconception that they wrap everything—that is not the case. They are actually changing an everyday landscape by demonstrating a sense of impermanence.

Jeanne-Claude had what was termed a “contagious optimism”—she felt they were an unstoppable force together. Their’s was an inseparable partnership of love and art. On Nov. 18, 2009, Jeanne-Claude died at the age of 74. Since her death, Christo has chosen to continue their projects.

Currently, Christo is working to garner approval for a project called “Over The River”. Designed to be in place for two weeks, it is a 40-mile-long suspension of fabric over the Arkansas River in Colorado. According to the design specifications, it will be visible for about 1.5 miles from a nearby highway. The real beauty of the experience will be rafting down the river, a six-hour journey. Will it be made? Christo’s answer, “I don’t know”, may be the story of their life and work.

Spencer commented on Christo’s current venture and his trip to Pensacola. “As one could imagine, Christo is focused on the current project ‘Over the River’ in Colorado. He and his team are in the midst of the environmental impact study for the installation of 5.9 miles of fabric suspended over the Arkansas River between Salida and Canon City, Colo. Yet he continues to accept invitations such as ours. As a matter of fact, he will be in Miami the night before he arrives in Pensacola to give a similar lecture. Then shortly thereafter he will be in Los Angeles to receive an honorary degree, on behalf of himself and his late wife, from Occidental College.”

Regarding the scheduled slide show and lecture, Spencer said, “His visit to Pensacola is to give a slide overview of his and Jeanne-Claude’s work, followed by a question-and-answer period with the audience. This unique opportunity to talk directly with Christo will be held at the Saenger Theatre on Feb. 12 at 2 p.m. The following day, he will give a taped interview discussing their life’s work at WSRE, PBS for the Gulf Coast, before heading back to New York.”

Visual Art Department Head Krist Lien added about the exhibit and its importance, “My vision and mission is to develop a regional arts center–that is what we are trying to achieve. The visit from Christo, the exhibit and lecture are just part of the quest to continually raise the bar.”

info@inweekly.net

CHRISTO AND JEANNE-CLAUDE: PRINTS AND OBJECTS EXHIBIT
WHEN: 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Friday; Now-March 25
WHERE: Pensacola State College, Anna Lamar Switzer Center for Visual Arts, 1000 College Blvd., Bldg. 15.
COST: Free
DETAILS: pensacolastate.edu/visarts/gallery/gallery.htm

Slide Lecture
WHEN:  2 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 12
WHERE: Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox
COST:  VIP tickets $100; VIP tickets include entry into VIP reception and book signing with Christo immediately following lecture, 4:30-6:30 p.m. Orchestra Level $52.50, tickets for slide lecture only, 2-4 p.m., available at Ticketmaster.
DETAILS:  For more information and to purchase VIP tickets contact Pensacola State College Foundation at 484-1560 or 484-1788, or email amcghee@pensacolastate.edu.