Most Common Errors
The following text was written by Jeanne-Claude in 1998 in response to errors which go about in books, magazines, newspapers and television.
NO. Christo is his first name and the only one he uses. Jeanne-Claude also uses her first name. However, their son Cyril uses Christo's first name as his legal last name: Cyril Christo, born May 11, 1960.
NO. Jeanne-Claude (in French Jean-Claude is a man's name). Some people think that our last name is Claude, because of Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
Not quite so. Christo works an average of 14 hours a day – seven days a week. Jeanne-Claude is a bit lazier – only 12 to 13 hours a day. They do not take vacations.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude are their own art dealers, they sell Christo's works to art collectors, museums, galleries and art dealers. In 1958, the price of Christo's works varied, according to size, between $40 and $100. Christo and Jeanne-Claude were happy with such prices, because their rent in Paris was $70 a month.
To supplement the "non-sales" of his art, between 1956 and 1964 Christo, in addition to washing cars in garages and dishes in restaurants, had to paint portraits, oil on canvas, which he signed by his family name: Javacheff. Those were highly paid – $200 to $300 each – that is how they could survive – that is also how he met Jeanne-Claude, in Paris in 1958, when he painted the portrait of Jeanne-Claude's mother. By the time Christo had done an impressionist portrait, a classical portrait and a cubist portrait of the mother, Christo and Jeanne-Claude were in love...
NEVER – on any project – except Jeanne-Claude's mother, everyone who works is paid: normal union wages for specialized professional workers, and just above minimum wage for non-skilled workers. One important exception: for the Wrapped Coast, One Million Square Feet, Little Bay, Australia, 1968-69. Out of 125 paid workers, eleven architecture students refused to be paid – three of them became artists after the project and are now well known.
NO – a conception on a paper is not Christo and Jeanne-Claude's idea of art. They want to build their projects – they could save a lot of money by not building them, by just keeping them on paper – as conceptual artists do. Christo and Jeanne-Claude want to SEE their project realized because they believe it will be a work of art of joy and beauty. The only way to see it is to build it.
Environmental Artists: YES – because they created many works in cities – in urban environments – and also in rural environments but NEVER in deserted places, and always sites already prepared and used by people, managed by human beings for human beings. Therefore they are not "Land Art" either.
We believe that labels are important, but mostly for bottles of wine.
So-called Environmentalists, in the past, have claimed, before each project, that Christo and Jeanne-Claude will hurt the environment. They realized, after completion that:
1. Christo and Jeanne-Claude are the cleanest artists in the world, all is removed, their large scale works of art are temporary.
2. The sites are restored to their original condition and most materials are recycled. Except in Florida, for the Surrounded Islands, the site was luckily not restored to its original condition. Christo and Jeanne-Claude's workers removed, before the project, at Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s expense, 40 tons of garbage from the eleven islands (one of the islands was called "beer cans island"). Of course the garbage was not restored to the islands.
3. The real Environmentalists such as "The Audubon Society" and "The Sierra Club" usually find themselves on Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s side – because they are better informed. They know how much Christo and Jeanne-Claude spend to make the public aware of the environment, through the art work, much more than Environmentalists can afford to do.
NO. None of their work is designed for the birds, all have a scale to be enjoyed by human beings who are on the ground.
1. Sonoma is a town in Northern California miles away from the Running Fence. The temporary work of art was located in Sonoma County and in Marin County (Sonoma and Marin Counties).
2. The nylon fabric of the Running Fence could never be used for parachutes – God forbid that anyone would ever jump with that type of fabric.
There are six errors in that published sentence:
1.-2. Christo and Jeanne-Claude never wrapped any islands. They surrounded the islands. Most journalists do not understand the difference between "wrapping" and "surrounding" even though they should know that the United Kingdom is surrounded by water, it is not wrapped in water.
3. There were eleven islands surrounded, but because in two occasions two islands were surrounded together, there was a total of nine configurations on a span of seven miles.
4. Not off the coast – off the coast would be in the Atlantic Ocean – east of Miami Beach.
5. It was in Biscayne Bay in the heart of the city of Miami, between Miami City and Miami Beach. "Key Biscayne" is miles away from there.
6. Not plastic – fabric. Woven polypropylene is a man-made fiber, and is woven. Plastic usually refers to a film, not woven. For instance, women who wear nylon stockings are not wearing plastic stockings.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude have designed The Umbrellas to be seen by driving, walking – and going UNDER the umbrellas – resting on the sitting platform/base cover designed for this.
Neither Christo nor Jeanne-Claude flew to look at their previous works – Wrapped Coast, Valley Curtain, Running Fence, Wrapped Walk Ways, The Pont Neuf Wrapped – because those works were designed to be experienced form the ground – NOT by flying. The Surrounded Islands were designed to be seen from the buildings, all around the bay, from the bridges and causeways, from the roads, by boat and also from the air – Christo flew by helicopter ONCE – for 20 minutes – and only at the Surrounded Islands. Jeanne-Claude flew more times because it was the fast way to check on the progress of the work and she wanted to take photos at the same time as their exclusive photographer Wolfgang Volz.
The Umbrellas were NOT designed to be seen from the air – the projects can not be fully enjoyed from the air. Hundreds of umbrellas were placed along the roads, very accessible, on public property for the public to freely touch, enjoy and photograph.
After 18 days, The Umbrellas were removed from the land. They were taken apart and most of the materials were recycled. The paint was scraped off the aluminum parts, (poles, ribs and struts) which was melted down and used again as aluminum like soda cans or whatever aluminum is used for. The steel bases became scrap metal or were used as bases for satellite dishes. The fabric used in the projects is always industrial man made fabrics, which are manufactured for ecological purposes (air and water filters, or sand bags against floods), or agricultural purposes, such as "erosion control mesh" which was used for the Wrapped Coast in Australia in 1969, and for construction purposes.
Why Umbrellas? Like all their projects, this work of art was not only aesthetic about creating joy and beauty – it was also about comparison showing the similarities and differences in the ways of life and the use of the land of two peoples – the two richest in the world – living across the Pacific Ocean.
SPACE is an element of the three-dimensional works of art – a sculpture has its own space around it, while a painting is a flat surface. Christo and Jeanne-Claude wanted to show the differences of the use of the space in the inland valley in the USA and in the inland valley in Japan – they needed a free standing module or shape that they would place in a configuration reflecting the availability of the space in the valley in Ibaraki and the valley in California. The whole of Japan is about the same size as the state of California.
Because there is less space available in Japan (92% of the land can not be used, because of the steep volcanic mountains), 124 million Japanese people live on only 8% of the surface of Japan, Christo and Jeanne-Claude positioned the umbrellas quite close together, sometimes following the geometry of the rice fields. In California, the configuration of the design on the land showed the vastness of the uncultivated grazing land. The configuration was whimsical and the umbrellas were spreading in every direction, like the branches of a tree.
Also, Christo and Jeanne-Claude needed a structure which could be opened very quickly and this is related to the temporary character of the project – it took 45 seconds to crank open each one of the 3,100 umbrellas, over 2,000 workers opened the umbrellas in four hours, simultaneously in both countries. The shape of an umbrella is quite similar to the pointed roof of a house, the height is the same as the average two story house. Christo and Jeanne-Claude say that they were building houses without walls, like creating temporary settlements.
An umbrella is a symbol for shelter, against both rain and sun. It is an image that is easily understood, by any age, any country, any civilization, and this, for the past 4,800 years, since the umbrella shape was invented in Mesopotamia. Today, Iraq is part of what was Mesopotamia, where, in those days, the people believed that the sky was a giant umbrella placed by the Gods, to protect human beings. That shape is found throughout the art history of any century and civilization, as in: Persepolis in Iran – bas relief "Darius under an umbrella." The main characters in paintings and frescoes are often under an umbrella to show their importance.
Why Blue? – Why Yellow?
In Japan where it rains throughout the summer the landscape is green. There is a river, the Sato River, in which 90 umbrellas were standing in the water. Many different shades of green vegetation – it is a humid and wet landscape, therefore: blue umbrellas.
In Southern California, the dry season lasts during the whole summer – the grass is burnt by the sun, and becomes blond grass on brown hills – it is a dry landscape, therefore: yellow umbrellas. This was part of the aesthetic of the temporary work of art.
Two inland valleys – used by people. Not touristic – real life – inhabited by people doing their usual activities.
In both Countries: people – houses – villages – small towns – roads – traffic – barns – churches – temples – schools – post offices – restaurants – stores – gas stations.
In the two richest countries in the world.
452 Landowners in a shorter valley in Ibaraki, Japan, 12 miles (19 km). 26 Landowners in California – the valley was 18 miles long (29 km).
Why Ibaraki ? Why California?
When Christo and Jeanne-Claude were looking for the two ideal valleys across the Pacific, they wanted the valleys to be quite accessible, not far from a metropolitan area, so that the work could be easier, for the workers and supplies, and also for the visitors. Ibaraki is just north of Tokyo, close to Narita International Airport.
The California site is just north of Los Angles, close to LAX International Airport. The Pacific Rim unites the two sites, it would not be so if Christo and Jeanne-Claude had chosen the East Coast of the USA or the northern part of the West Coast, the landscape would be too similar to the verdant Ibaraki, and it would not have the relationship brought by the Pacific.
Why more umbrellas in California than in Japan?
There were 1,760 yellow umbrellas in California and 1,340 blue in Japan. The valley was longer in California, it was 18 miles (29 km) long while in Japan the valley was 12 miles (19 km) long.
The number of umbrellas came out of the inspiration of the artists, while looking at the topographic maps and later in 1988, walking around and climbing up and down many times, surveying the land and creating their own design or drawing on the two landscapes. There was an ever present factor to limit the number to 3,100 – that factor is called Jeanne-Claude, who kept saying that the maximum cost should be for 3,000 umbrellas, however there were 3,100. Financially she lost, esthetically she won.
The history of the Reichstag and significant dates of the Wrapped Reichstag project is written on a separate paper but there are a few things which must be mentioned:
The Nazis never held a parliamentary session inside the Reichstag.
Before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the Reichstag was situated in the British Occupation Zone of West Berlin, however part of the east facade of the building was under the jurisdiction of the Soviet Occupation Zone of East Berlin.
The Wall itself was NOT the border between East and West, the Wall was built entirely inside East Berlin, otherwise the Soviets would not have been able to build it.
It is totally idiotic to call Christo and Jeanne-Claude the "wrapping artists." So many works were not about wrapping: The Iron Curtain, 1961-62; Valley Curtain, 1970-72; Running Fence, 1972-76; Surrounded Islands, 1980-83; The Umbrellas, 1984-91; etc...
Only three buildings were wrapped: The Kunsthalle, Berne, in 1968, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, in 1969 and the Reichstag, Berlin, in 1995 which is the third and last wrapped building, the project was first initiated in 1961 and then in 1971. In 1971, the Valley Curtain was already well underway, and was NOT a wrapping. The last time they had an idea of "wrapping" was in 1975 – The Pont Neuf Wrapped – but it took ten years to get permission.
The "wrapping" is NOT at all the common denominator of the works. What is really the common denominator is the use of fabric, cloth, textile. Fragile, sensual and temporary materials which translate the temporary character of the works of art.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude were both born on June 13, 1935. In 1994 they decided to officially change the artist name "Christo" into: the artists "Christo and Jeanne-Claude." They have been working together since their first outdoor temporary work: Stacked Oil Barrels and Dockside Packages, Cologne Harbor, 1961. Because Christo was already an artist when they met in 1958 in Paris, and Jeanne-Claude was not an artist then, they have decided that their name will be "Christo and Jeanne-Claude," NOT "Jeanne-Claude and Christo."
Throughout the millenniums, for 5,000 years, artists have tried to input a variety of different qualities into their works of art. They have used different materials: marble, stone, bronze, wood, fresco and paint. They have created mythological and religious images, figurative and abstract images. They have tried to do bigger or smaller works and a lot of different qualities. But there is one quality they have never used, and that is the quality of love and tenderness that human beings have for what does not last. For instance, they have love and tenderness for childhood because they know it will not last. They have love and tenderness for their own life because they know it will not last. Christo and Jeanne-Claude wish to donate this quality of love and tenderness to their work, as an additional aesthetic quality. The fact that the work does not remain creates an urgency to see it. For instance, if someone were to say, "Oh, look on the right, there is a rainbow," one would never answer, "I will look at it tomorrow."
When Christo and Jeanne-Claude discuss a new project, it usually ends up larger than Jeanne-Claude had initially thought it would. For instance, when Jeanne-Claude proposed to Christo the idea of the Surrounded Islands, she meant to surround three or four islands... they ended up surrounding eleven islands.
What do Christo and Jeanne-Claude mean when they talk about the "software" and the "hardware" periods of a project? The software period is the time during which the project exists only on Christo’s preparatory drawings and in the imagination of the artists and their collaborators – and all those from whom permissions must be obtained. Many years of work, 1984 to 1991 for The Umbrellas, 1975 to 1985 for The Pont Neuf Wrapped, 1971 to 1995 for the Wrapped Reichstag, 1966 to 1998 for the Wrapped Trees.
The drawings on paper created by Christo are always done before the completion of a project, those preparatory drawings, collages, scale models, are revealing of the evolution of the details, through the development and crystallization of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s initial idea – the drawings reflect the years of research involving the location of the site, the accumulated knowledge of the site and the people using that area, and the technical aspects of the structure slowly evolving towards the final engineering and the construction blue prints.
As with all artists, those drawings are sold by the artist’s art dealer – in the case of Christo’s drawings, Christo and Jeanne-Claude are their own art dealers. They sell to museums, art collectors, art dealers and galleries, through the corporation which was created to build the projects. The money coming from the sale of Christo’s original works of art is used to pay all the expenses of the preparation, completion, maintenance and removal – not only there is no profit, there is not even money back. It is just like bringing up a child. Christo and Jeanne-Claude do NOT sell T-shirts, postcards, posters, photographs and they receive NO royalties on the sale of any of these.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude have no royalties either on the books and films about their works, on the contrary they often financially help the publication of the books. Only two publishers never asked money from Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Prestel and Taschen. The artists entirely financed the making of the documentaries by Maysles Films.
The fact that Christo and Jeanne-Claude pay for their projects with their own money is also an aesthetic decision, they want to work in total freedom, that is why they accept no sponsors. Therefore they can do: what they want, how they want it, where they want it, but of course not always WHEN they want because it took them 24 years to get the permit for the Wrapped Reichstag, and ten years for The Pont Neuf Wrapped, etc...
All income from the sale of Christo’s early works of the fifties and sixties and preparation works on paper, drawings and collages, showing what a project will look like, is spent for the preparation, realization and removal of the projects: materials, labor, shipping, insurance, engineering, staff, rentals, legal, etc...
Christo and Jeanne-Claude do not spend their money on what is the usual pleasure of most people, they have their own priorities, they spend their money on what is their pleasure: building works of art of JOY and BEAUTY for themselves and their collaborators, first of all, and for all to enjoy for free. There can be no money back on the expenses because they do not charge admission and they do not accept any commercial offers. Christo and Jeanne-Claude have never received a cent for posters, postcards, books, films, etc...
Most artists receive grants, foundation money and produce commissioned works of art for an art patron – Christo and Jeanne-Claude do not accept those. They have never accepted sponsorship of any kind, they never will, because they value their freedom most of all. Also they never create a work in collaboration with other artists, nor do they accept the ideas of others for the choice of a site for their work. The search for freedom is the reason why Christo escaped from his native country Bulgaria, at age 21, while it was under Communist rule. Christo and Jeanne-Claude will never allow any kind of "strings attached." They refuse all commercial involvement – at any price. They have refused a one million dollars fee for a 60 second commercial on Japanese television, in 1988.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude have lived at the same address since 1964 when they emigrated to the USA (the first 3 years in the USA were as illegal aliens) – Christo’s studio is on the 5th floor – there is no elevator – this is their one and only home. Christo never had an assistant, he works alone in his studio, he even does his own framing. Because Christo and Jeanne-Claude work with so many hundreds, sometimes thousands of people at the sites of projects, Christo's studio is the only place where he can be by himself, so that he can create the drawings which show their ideas of what a project will look like.
There are 3 things Christo and Jeanne-Claude never do together:
- They never fly in the same aircraft.
- Jeanne-Claude does not make drawings, she was not trained for that. Christo puts their ideas on paper, he never had an assistant in his studio.
- Christo never had the pleasure of talking to their tax accountant.