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Loading the Canon #10 by Helena-Anne Hittel

Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Wrapping it Up

When you wrap things in fabric, they sometimes look more interesting. The essential shape of the object is more visible. Look at things this way. If you were to wrap a rock face in fabric, you’d see so much more. You could see the sharp points and the sheer drops and the overall shape of a coastline so much clearer under 1,000,000 square feet of grey fabric. Christo and Jeanne-Claude realized this, so, in 1968-69, they wrapped the coast of Little Bay, Australia.

Environmental artist couple Christo and Jeanne-Claude have collaborated on various projects since 1961, until Jeanne-Claude’s death in 2009. The team is perhaps most well-known for their wrapping of islands in Biscayne Bay, Florida, the Reichstag building in Germany, and Running Fence in California. This, however, is merely a small sampling of their projects.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76, Photo: Wolfgang Volz © 1976 Christo

In 1983, Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped 11 islands in Biscayne Bay in hot pink fabric and called it Surrounded Islands. Though small in size, wrapping one is a daring undertaking on its own, let alone 11. With the help of 430 workers, the project was realized and on display for two weeks. I loved these images when I saw them. If you were to eliminate the fabric, the islands are a bit dark, even with a small spit of sand to outline it. Christo and Jeanne-Claude have essentially taken a bright pink highlighter and outlined these islands, showing everyone in the Miami area what these islands actually look like.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Surrounded Islands, Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida, 1980-83, Photo: Wolfgang Volz © 1983 Christo

In 1995, 12 years after their Surrounded Islands, the duo wrapped the Reichstag Building in Germany. This required over 1,076,390 square feet of fabric and took the work of 90 professional climbers and 120 installation workers. Even though the entire structure was essentially encased in fabric, the project still allowed for the building’s original use. This not only gave the viewing audience something new to look at, and left a little room for the imagination. After all, when all you can see is draped in fabric, there could be anything underneath.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin, 1971-95, Photo: Wolfgang Volz © 1995 Christo

Running Fence happened before both of the aforementioned projects in 1976. Spanning 24 1⁄2 miles across California, the project took 2,152,780 square feet of nylon fabric and 42 months to realize. That said, this project remained for two weeks, and upon dismantling, all materials were given to the ranchers whose lands were used. Both rural and urban lands were used. This fence not only gave you the topography of California, it also seemed to serve as social commentary, visually and almost figuratively restricting the cities by way of the roadways it traversed (even though the roadways still allowed use). In this project, Christo brought together two different communities while also maintaining this separation.

Even after Jeanne-Claude’s death, Christo is still at work on Over the River, a project originally conceived in 1992. His latest endeavor is to suspend translucent, silvery fabric about 25 feet over 8 specific sections of the Arkansas River in Colorado. Visitors can see this project from cars, busses, and boats on the river itself. He’s not exactly wrapping the river here, but by covering it, he will create the same effect.

Over the River (Project for Arkansas River, State of Colorado) Drawing 2010 , 13 7/8 x 15 1/4″ (35.2 x 38.7 cm) , Pencil, pastel, charcoal and wax crayon , Photo: André Grossmann © 2010 Christo

If you were to wrap yourself in a blanket, you’d still see your shape underneath. What inspired Henry Moore in the air raid shelters of Britain inspired the environmental arts created by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, on a monumental scale.

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Helena-Anne Hittel (Episode 35, essay) is an Art History Major at the University of Central Florida and Intern at the UCF Art Gallery.

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