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Christo’s Crusade

The public-art pioneer—hard at work on two new projects—reminisces with Michael Bloomberg about The Gates, the installation that transformed Central Park in 2005

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Christo with Jeanne-Claude

Christo’s stealth weapon was his beloved wife, Jeanne-Claude, with whom he worked as two halves of a whole; she died in 2009. Jeanne-Claude would visit one space while he was working on another; she would handle the books while Christo worked with sketches, models, planning and a staff that spanned continents. (Their projects are entirely self-financed via a conglomeration of lines of credit from banks around the world, necessitating a project manager for each.)

How has her death has changed his process? “It hasn’t changed it,” he says, quieter, “other than that we miss her very much.” He has two assistants, his nephews, who have taken over his business dealings. “I inherited them,” he says. “I don’t know anything—how to pay bills, how to pay taxes.”

It is suggested that a project less complex than Over the River and The Mastaba might reach a speedier realization. “Complex? No,” he scoffs. “Sculpture is also complex! Because it is public space, the project develops its own identity. Visually, aesthetically, we cannot make a decision until we are there. That is the most exciting part.”

Does he have more projects in him? “No, I don’t have any more,” he says vehemently. “For the moment, don’t ask me! I’m totally focused on these two projects.”

Toward the end of the conversation, Christo recalls the project that broke ground and made the artists’ name, Wrapped Coast in Australia. He and Jeanne-Claude revisited the site two years before she died. “Jeanne-Claude and I were probably totally nuts to try and wrap that coastline in 1969, but we were very young and we did it.  Basically, the project there was part of our life. Something never again repeated—unforgettable—and so enjoyable because it cannot be bought, cannot be owned, cannot be sold tickets, no kind of anything.”

Christo and Jeanne-Claude with Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a press conference in Central Park, 2003

He sums up his career as a compulsion toward freedom. Born in Bulgaria, he moved to America in 1964 with Jeanne-Claude. “Because I lived until age 21 in a Communist country, this idea of art with messages… For me, any art that has messages is propaganda.”

The Mastaba and Over the River, he concludes, are “absolutely unnecessary. Nobody needs this project,” he says. Then, after a pause, “Jeanne-Claude and I need it.”

Click here to see a gallery of Christo’s works in progress.



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