An Introduction to the Sublime, Entrepreneurial Art of Christo & Jeanne-Claude (Courtesy of Alain de Botton’s School of Life)

Of all the work that made Chris­to and Jeanne-Claude the most famous instal­la­tion artists of the past fifty years, none still exists. If you want­ed to see the Reich­stag wrapped in sil­ver fab­ric, you’d have to have been in Berlin in the sum­mer of 1995. If you want­ed to see Cen­tral Park thread­ed with Shin­to shrine-style gates, you’d have to have been in New York in the win­ter of 2005. If you want­ed to see an enor­mous Mesopotami­an masta­ba made out of 7,506 oil bar­rels, you’d have to have been in Lon­don in the sum­mer of 2018. Though often cel­e­brat­ed for its “ephemer­al” nature, Chris­to and Jeanne-Claude’s art neces­si­tat­ed a for­mi­da­ble amount of polit­i­cal, orga­ni­za­tion­al, logis­ti­cal, and man­u­al work to pull it off — and in that con­trast lies its sub­lim­i­ty.

“To oper­ate real­is­ti­cal­ly on a large scale, they need­ed to deploy many of the skills tra­di­tion­al­ly asso­ci­at­ed with busi­ness and which we think of as the domain of the entre­pre­neur,” says the arti­cle on Chris­to and Jeanne-Claude at The Book of Life, a prod­uct of Alain de Bot­ton’s School of Life. The two “had to nego­ti­ate with city coun­cils and gov­ern­ments; they had to draw up busi­ness plans, arrange large scale finance, employ the tal­ents and time of hun­dreds even thou­sands of peo­ple, coor­di­nate vast efforts and deal with mil­lions of users or vis­i­tors. And all the while, they held on to the high ambi­tions asso­ci­at­ed with being an artist.” What’s more, since the cou­ple nev­er took grants or pub­lic mon­ey of any kind, they had to turn enough of a prof­it from each project to finance the next, even more majes­tic (and to some, fool­hardy) one.

You can see more of Chris­to and Jeanne-Claude’s projects, and footage of those projects under con­struc­tion, in the School of Life video at the top of the post. It also shows Chris­to cre­at­ing the prepara­to­ry mate­ri­als that made their work pos­si­ble, not only in that they pre­sent­ed the visions of the wrapped-up pieces of infra­struc­ture or val­leys full of umbrel­las to come, but that the sale of the plans and draw­ings financed the process of mak­ing those visions real. All this in the ser­vice of what Jeanne-Claude, who died in 2009, called “works of art of joy beau­ty,” and through Chris­to depart­ed the realm of exis­tence him­self last Sun­day, the rest of us have anoth­er such work to look for­ward to: L’Arc de Tri­om­phe, Wrapped. Based on an idea that came to Chris­to when he and Jeanne-Claude lived in Paris in the late 1950s and ear­ly 60s (and recent­ly delayed one more year due to the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic), it will pro­vide more than rea­son enough to be in Paris in the fall of 2021.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How the Vision­ary Artist Chris­to (RIP) Changed the Way We See the World

Cli­mate Change Gets Strik­ing­ly Visu­al­ized by a Scot­tish Art Instal­la­tion

Pi in the Sky: The World’s Largest Ephemer­al Art Instal­la­tion over Beau­ti­ful San Fran­cis­co

This Huge Crash­ing Wave in a Seoul Aquar­i­um Is Actu­al­ly a Gigan­tic Opti­cal Illu­sion

Alain de Bot­ton Shows How Art Can Answer Life’s Big Ques­tions in Art as Ther­a­py

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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