After Prime Minister Malu Dreyer, Comedian Otto, mountain legend Reinhold Messner, DDR design icon Josefine von Krepl, self-made man Alex Mutsaars and XY moderator Rudi Cerne, I would like to tell a small story about another VIP personality who I met on a special occasion. I am talking of “object fashion desiger” CHRISTO. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christo_und_Jeanne-Claude
What does Christo or better, what has the couple Christo and Jeanne-Claude not already packed and wrapped; almost everything from the public buildings as well as barrels, walls and parkways to islands and entire landscapes all over the world. Both became known in Germany by the veiling of the Berlin Reichstag in 1995.
I had the privilege to be in Northern Italy in 2016, when he dressed up the Iseo Islands in dahlia-yellow nylon material for 18 days in June / July; although I have seen the maestro (meantime 84 years old) only from the near distance while directing and talking in a quite energetic way. Already in 1980 he had realized a similar project in Florida / Key Biscayne. Most of his works – like in case of the Iseo Lake – for only some days or weeks. But one step after another ….
The artist couple Christo (born June 13, 1935 in Bulgaria) and Jeanne-Cleaude (born June 13, 1935 in Casablanca, Morocco, as Jeanne-Claude de Guillebon, † 18/11/2009 in New York) are actually both born on the same day. The design focus has always been on disguising and wrapping major projects.
Already at the age of six, Christo received his first drawing and painting lessons and, even at a young age, he started working with large pieces of cloth in his father’s factory.
Jeanne-Claude once should have said of him “Of course I could say that art was the decisive moment, but in fact he was a devilishly good lover.” “On May 11, 1960, her son Cyril was born; the wedding finally took place in November 1962.
Anyway, Christo covered cans, bottles, chairs, everything he could find. Inspired by Miro, Saint Phalle and Tinguely, he often used resin-impregnated canvas, tied up the objects and treated them with glue, varnish, sand and car paint.
In February 1964, the problematic move to New York followed.Incidentally, it was not until 1973 that Christo was granted US citizenship after 17 years of statelessness.
In 1968 both participated in the Documenta in Kassel; the contribution consisted of an elongated balloon, in the vernacular “sausage” called, with a volume of 5600 cubic meters.
In 1969, Jeanne-Claude and Christo masked a coastal strip in Australia with the help of 130 helpers and a total of 17,000 working hours. 93,000 m² of synthetic material and 56 kilometers of rope were laid (cost around 70,000 US$).
The authorities of the project locations, however, are not always happy about those ideas, but he almost always succeeds in implementing his art installations. Even, if it once took up to nine lawyers to get the necessary legal permits (the project costs rose steadily from just some thousand up to millions of Dollars). After nine years in 1984, they received the permission to cover the Pont Neuf (oldest bridge of Paris). A total of 23 years they had to wait to act in Berlin respectively to disguise the Reichstag (1995) with 100,000 square meters of refractory polypropylene. The installation involved 90 professional climbers and was viewed by around 5 million visitors.
In 2013 Christo filled the gasometer in Oberhausen with the installation “Big Air Package”. After the final installation “The Wall” (1999) for the International Building Exhibition Emscher Park, it was his second artwork in the Gasometer. The sculpture inside the highest exhibition hall in Europe was made of 20,350 square meters of translucent fabric and 4,500 meters of rope in Lübeck.
Finally in 2016 “The Floating Piers” of Iseo
With more than 75,000 square meters of dahlia-yellow fabric and about 200,000 floating polyethylene elements, it became possible to link the shore of the Iseo Lake with its two islands Monte Isola and Isola di San Paolo. The three-kilometer-long, 16-meter-wide and 50-centimeter-high jetties, anchored with a total of 200 hooks, reached into the pedestrian zone of SULZANO on the mainland shore and PESCHIERA MARAGLIO on Monte Isola. Just one year before In April 2015 Christo had presented his plans to realize the project without public funding and without entrance fees with 500 employees and volunteers. The object-installation lasted only 16 days and was recycled afterwards
The opening took place on 18 June 2016. Occasional storms and the enormous number of visitors on the weekends led partly to chaotic conditions. In consequence, the installation had to be closed between midnight and six in the morning for cleaning and repairs. On July 3rd 2016, the project was finished and the number of visitors was estimated at 1.3 million people. The Floating Piers was the first major project that Christo completed without his wife. The cost of its realization was stated at $ 19.5 million, fully self-financed by Christo (as usually by selling prints and drawings with own image rights as well as promotional items such as T-shirts, postcards, etc).
What it takes to prevail against such visitor-crowds and to somehow get to the island was an exciting story. The only chance was to travel/ arrive very early 05.00 clock, but already at 06.00 clock right in front of us the police closed the access road to SULZANO, because lack of parking space (in front of the P + R station 10 kilometers away, more than 200 people were already waiting for the shuttle-bus). Therefore we decided for the alternative to try a boat transfer via the village TAVERNOLA on the opposite lake-shore. But the first ship line ship was scheduled for two hours later at 09.00 clock. Well, time for breakfast. Finally at 11.00 hours, together with some Italians, we were able to organize a private motor-boat, which brought us to Monte Isola for a reasonable price. After only a few meters, the paths and footbridges were full of people almost standing but yet the feeling was quite an experience. Walking on the floating construction of tons felt like dancing and the structure of the yellow material caused a very pleasant grip when walking with bare feet.
As the heat increased, we sat down for only two minutes at the very edge of a connecting bridge to hang our feet into the water. Immediately a friendly female guardian advised us to get up again and clear the place for safety reasons. We had a short conversation and finally she pulled an original piece of the yellow fabric out of her pocket (approx. 7 x 7 cm) and gave it to us as a souvenir. We took this opportunity to make our way back when suddenly a helicopter circled above the scene and Christo was recognizable in it. Coincidently we passed him later on our way back to the mooring when he landed on the island by boat. Without a doubt an energetic charismatic personality who burns for his art despite his age. We don’t like mass gatherings/ festivals, but we definitely had enjoyed this “moment of open-air art”, even though we had to share it with 1.3 million visiting fans.
As far as I know, other projects are in planning .. Well, whether the world needs such events, you can argue about that. But creative-visionary minds like Christo (who finance their projects themselves and make it available for free) to me remain an asset against globalization and egalitarianism.
I would have liked to once meet Fidel Castro and Peter Ustinov … but unfortunately too late …