I went to a lecture at the ETH tonight given by Cristo & Jeanne-Claude, the artists who wrapped the Reichtstag and who did The Gates in New York City last year. There's an exhibition of their work in Zurich starting on Friday this week, hosted by Credit Suisse who are celebrating their 150th anniversary this year.
The lecture was long but fascinating. This husband and wife team had a real buzz about them. On the one hand they sometimes came across as somewhat childlike and naive, but then when they talked it was possible to hear the real intelligence and power of their work. They've been artists since 1964 and their work combines elements of landscape art, sculpture, painting, architecture and cloth technology. They are such a wonderful example of perserverance. Many of their biggest projects (such as the Reichstag and The Gates) were 20-25 years in the plannind and execution, often because of lack of permission to stage these projects. For the Reichstag project alone they made 4 applications over 25 years and the project itself consisted of 650 "artworks" ie sketches, photos, models. They explained that when a project was refused they listenend to the voice in their heart, and if it was still calling out to them to do the project, they kept working on it. This also meant that many of these major projects overlapped over years.
Their artistic direction is led by their values of beauty and joy. Their art is always temporary, transient. For example, 14 days or less. Most art aims for permanence, but they believed that many of the things we love the most are temporary (ie childhood, life itself) and so art itself should reflect this transience. Linked to this is their use of cloth and fabric. There are nomadic themes. Cloth is put up and taken down, it moves and has energy. They give everything, time, money, energy to each project. They are completely self funded (the Gates cost 21 million) and they raise their money through selling off earlier art works to museums and collectors. They believed strongly that people should not have to pay to see and experience their work and in fact, much of their project planning consists of talking to the people who are / will be living near to their art.
They talked mostly about their next project, Over the River, but also touched on the symbolism of The Gates. They wanted their art work to involve New Yorkers and they saw that much of NY's energy is based around it's pedestrians. The gates were all the same height, but varying in width. Their rectangular structure reflect the tower blocks and block lay out of New York, whilst the movement of the cloth and the winding path of the Gates reflected the organic but man made nature of Central Park.