NANCY HAMILTON – The Corsair
As I crested a hill near Los Angeles in Southern California, I was astounded to see hundreds and hundreds of giant yellow umbrellas dotting the valley and surrounding hills. Some were in groups and some stood alone, but all were amazing and bright in the sunshine, just begging the question… Why? I remember thinking, “What on Earth is that all about?” On that warm autumn day in October 1991, I didn’t know that I was witness to an 18-day environmental art creation of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Nor that there was a twin project in a similar valley in Japan with blue umbrellas.
Now, in the present, I find myself once again witness to the art of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, but on a much smaller scale than the Umbrellas. Pensacola State College’s Anna Lamar Switzer Center for Visual Arts is hosting the exhibit “Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Prints and Objects” from Jan. 24 to March 25, with a slide lecture by Christo Feb. 12. The collection features the most integral aspects of the World-renowned artists’ versatile careers, including more than 130 original numbered editions of prints and objects by Christo.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude were a husband and wife team that has created art since the 1960s, on both small and massive scales (Jeanne-Claude passed away in late 2009). They were pure artists, refusing sponsorships or corporate money, or even proceeds from the sale of books and photos of their artwork. Instead, they sold preparatory drawings, collages and earlier artworks to pay for ongoing projects. They were nothing if not hardworking and tenacious. Some of their larger projects took decades to come to life, from initial concept through finding the perfect location, gaining permits, completing countless studies, obtaining the funds and materials, seeing it come to life, then finally removing and recycling all of the materials. They were also ardent environmentalists, and always returned each area to the same condition as they found it. Well, almost always. In the case of the islands in Biscayne Bay, Miami, over 40 tons of garbage were removed from eleven islands prior to the project installation. So, they were actually left in better condition than they were found.
While many people think of Christo as “that guy that wraps things”, in actuality wrapped art accounts for a small percentage of their entire portfolio of artworks. Some of their largest, and perhaps best well known, creations include: Running Fence (Calif., 1976); Surrounded Islands (Miami, Fla., 1983); Valley Curtain (Colo., 1972); Wall of Oil Barrels, Iron Curtain (Rue Visconti, Paris, 1962); Ocean Front (R.I., 1974); and The Gates (Central Park, New York City, 2005). Christo is continuing their work with two new projects: Over The River (Project for the Arkansas River, Colo.) and The Mastaba (Project for the United Arab Emirates). Additional information on their lives and art can be found at www.christojeanneclaude.net/
The “Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Prints and Objects” exhibit is part of the Anna Lamar Switzer Distinguished Artist Series, established in 2002. The series brings a combination of distinctive exhibits to the PSC Visual Arts gallery and lectures by the artist to PSC students and the general public. Vivian Spencer, the Visual Arts Gallery Director, has been working since late 2008 to bring this exclusive exhibit to PSC. Once an agreement was made with the artists on a date, the gallery had to meet strict lighting and security requirements, determined by the artists. Christo designed the show specifically for the gallery, having received photographs and floor plan. The artists’ nephew Vladimir Yavachev personally hung the works according to Christo’s design. Tragically, Jeanne-Claude died suddenly in late 2009. Spencer wondered, “Would Christo still honor the verbal agreement in place?” Fortunately, she eventually received word from Christo he would still do arranged shows as planned. The process has been extremely long and difficult, but Vivian stated that they were determined to “start early and do what it takes to make it happen.” Fortunately for Pensacola, “make it happen” they did.
Morgan Hamilton, a PSC art student, has been a Christo fan for many years. “Christo and Jean-Claude’s work has been an inspiration to my art from early on. Their innovation and creativity expanded my understanding of what art can be and where it can go,” he said. “I look forward to getting the behind-the-scene aspect during Christo’s lecture. No doubt he will continue to inspire.” I also look forward to attending Christo’s lecture and hearing his views of past projects and, in particular, new projects in the works. I’m also hoping I might get a glimmer of an answer to my question from 1991, “What on Earth is that all about?”