red tulips | copyright Jill J. Jensen



Christo and Jeanne-Claude

environmental artists


Regardless of your opinion of those saffron (imagine industrial orange) "Gates" waving in the breeze of New York's Central Park in February 2005, you have to admire the vision, the audacity, and the determination behind every environmental artwork created by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Nobody does "big" better. Or worse, depending on your perspective. Personally, I like some of these efforts more than others, but I can say that about virtually any artist or creative person I encounter. You probably can, too.

So why not give some of this stuff a closer look?

Not possible, you say. Nothing remains. Well, yes, and no. The mammoth installations may be gone — a curtain between two Colorado mountains, billowing pink skirts surrounding eleven Florida islands, acres of cloth wrapping the Pont Neuf Bridge in Paris, thousands of umbrellas seeming to span the Pacific Ocean from California to Japan, a shimmering white fabric fence running across nearly 25 miles of northern California hillside — but the impact remains. And so do the stories.

For as long as Christo and Jeanne-Claude have been creating environmental art, acclaimed filmmakers Albert and David Maysles (Gimme Shelter; Grey Gardens) have been documenting the sagas. Five films that capture the process, the politics, the emotions, and the outcomes of some of Christo's more-well-known early works can be found in a DVD boxed set, released in 2004. The films are Christo's Valley Curtain, Running Fence, Islands, Christo in Paris, and Umbrellas.

The luminous Running Fence was my first Christo encounter. As a photographer, I remain fascinated by the play of light on the flowing fabric at different times of day. The filmmakers found incredible sites (and sights), offering viewers what can only be glimpses of the artists' grand vision. Given the scope of every installation, there's always a compelling story, and the filmmakers give us the deliciously gory details. Although the films may be challenging to locate, they're well worth the hunt.

Whether or not you find the films, visit the website for a sampling of still photographs from many of Christo's installations to enter this realm of fantasy — and determination.


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