Posted 23 April 2014 - 06:32 PM
christo isn't my favorite, but he's always worth a smile.
Q. and A. | Christo on Jeanne-Claude, the Art of the Process and Trying to Drape a River in Fabric
Christo probably isn’t the first name you think of when considering quintessentially New York artists. Yet he landed in the city nearly 50 years ago, arriving from France with his late spouse and creative partner Jeanne-Claude. They moved into a warehouse in SoHo in the early 1960s, converting the building into a residence, studio, gallery and corporate headquarters, complete with its own generator. (The power didn’t go out during Sandy.)
Persistence has been a hallmark of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s ambitious, site-specific creative endeavors, with projects like “The Umbrellas” in Japan and Southern California,“Wrapped Reichstag” in Berlin and “The Gates” in Central Park often taking decades to execute. Following Jeanne-Claude’s passing in 2009, Christo, now 78, has continued to work on two long-gestating projects. For “Over the River,” if he can clear the remaining legal hurdles in his way, the artist will temporarily drape a stretch of the Arkansas River in Colorado with blue fabric; and “The Mastaba,” a massive proposed structure in the United Arab Emirates made of 410,000 oil drums, would be Christo’s first-ever permanent installation.
Following a rare public appearance last week at the Manhattan co-working space Neuehouse, the artist sat down to discuss his career with Jeanne-Claude and the status of his current projects.
How did you find this space?
We have been here since ’64. When we arrived, we lived for the first few months in the Chelsea Hotel. We were illegal aliens, actually, on tourist visas. We were scouting around for a building, and this had been empty since 1940, just before the war started. Only the ground floor was taken by the landlord, and we rented the top two floors and built out the walls ourselves. We bought the building in 1973 — we tried everything possible to get the money. At the time, we sometimes weren’t even able to pay the rent for a few months. But the landlord, Mr. Rosenbaum, gave us a mortgage himself so that we could buy the building from him.
You don’t have a traditional artist’s studio, so how do you work on these very large-scale projects?
The most important part to grasp is that all of these projects are originated by us — I do not do commissions. Jeanne-Claude always said that these projects exist simply because we want to see them. They’re totally irrational and absolutely unnecessary. They cannot be bought, you can’t charge for tickets. The world can exist without them. And this carries a kind of absolute freedom.
How do you remain patient with projects that can take decades to develop?
We never work on only one project because we never know if we will get permission for a project. So, for “Over the River,” we started in 1992. I was just finishing “The Umbrellas” in Japan and California, and I was also working on getting permission to wrap the Reichstag. We spent 180 days in Bonn, Germany, lobbying 660 deputies of the German parliament. Bonn is a very boring city, so we decided to have a working holiday while they were in recess. We spent August driving 15,000 miles in the Rocky Mountains to look at sites for “Over the River.” Then, at the same time, back in New York, we were working on “The Gates” project, which we first proposed in 1979.
How do you work with other people to realize your projects?
All of our pieces are meant to be interacted with. For example, one of the reasons we chose the Arkansas River for “Over the River” is because it’s very accessible. So, before we even began, we had to go present to the chamber of commerce in the towns of Salida and Cañon City. They gathered citizens, and we presented the project and our past work. Almost all the land along the river for the project is owned by the Bureau of Land Management. We prepared a 2,000-page application and report, which ended up costing over a million dollars. The federal government looks at that study and says, “Okay, now we’re going to hire a group of engineers to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement and you will pay for that study.” So that study ended up costing $2.5 million dollars. Then we were summoned to present in an auditorium in Washington, to give a lecture to 700 employees of the B.L.M., so that their experts could ask questions about the project.
Through all of this, we went to countless town hall meetings. People are worried that there will be traffic, which could interfere with ambulances if someone in that area gets sick. So we agreed to pay for two helicopters to be on standby. So, on and on. For the “Over the River” project, I still can’t tell you when it will be installed. But I can tell you we’ve already spent $14 million on it. We are probably the only artists in the world who have a 2,000-page book on a work of art that doesn’t exist. But in this way, these projects reveal their identity through this whole process. When I’m starting, I only have the slightest idea of how the work of art will exist. Thousands of people will participate in the work before it exists physically.
Do you ever have moments where you doubt these projects?
Of course! I am still doubting these two projects. Anything can happen. But that is the exciting part! These projects are something dynamic, they’re not orchestrated. These pieces have two phases: the software phase, where the art exists in the minds of the people involved in the project, and the hardware phase, where it comes into existence physically. When the project starts, we don’t really know what it is. Even visually, we don’t have the idea. But all of this is an adventure. I think it would be absolutely boring to work the way many artists do. Because we don’t know what will happen, it’s extremely invigorating. And we get to deal with so many people outside the art world. The art world is boring!
Do you have a favorite part of the process?
No. Though Jeanne-Claude would always say that “we have to spend time with our babies.” So for the umbrellas project, we spent time with each umbrella in Japan and California, to see it in the morning, in the evening light. I’m not a masochist! I did not choose to have the process be so complicated. And sometimes it’s very nasty. In Colorado, we needed to have the sheriff at the meetings because people would come with guns. For the Reichstag project we had 17 bodyguards and had to wear bulletproof vests. This is a real thing, it’s not theater. But the satisfaction comes from there. It’s very gratifying to know that you’re creating thinking in so many people. [Laughs.] That’s also why it would be useless to wrap another building or do “The Gates” again. After that project, there was a line of cities around the world asking us to go to their park and install gates. It was idiotical.
“The Mastaba” would be a permanent project. Does that represent a change of philosophy?
No, nothing in the process is different. I do a lot of work that’s permanent. The drawings, the sculptures, they’re permanent. If “The Mastaba” is realized, it will be the biggest art structure in the world — bigger than the Pyramid of Cheops. And really, nothing is forever.
Posted 23 April 2014 - 07:31 PM
ok, noted, christo isn't your favorite. but aren't you the least bit charmed that someone in this stupid world is doing something so elaborately frivolous? i am. all of christo's work will be gone and forgotten a thousand years from now but for a footnote somewhere. no harm done. lester young's notes will survive. isn't that consolation? i wish serra would think christo big.
"The most important part to grasp is that all of these projects are originated by us — I do not do commissions. Jeanne-Claude always said that these projects exist simply because we want to see them. They’re totally irrational and absolutely unnecessary. They cannot be bought, you can’t charge for tickets. The world can exist without them. And this carries a kind of absolute freedom."
Posted 23 April 2014 - 07:42 PM
i love the crazy immense beautifulness of these projects. i hope i get to see one someday.
Posted 23 April 2014 - 08:44 PM
ok, noted, christo isn't your favorite. but aren't you the least bit charmed
the part of the interview that you quoted was my favorite. i don't dislike christo; i rather like his stuff. i saw "the gates" on a very cold, very sunny day at the peak of winter, and it was super. it was also an act of staggering generosity, although the work itself belied that. i always find reading about him and his work to be so much more interesting than looking at his output, especially the drawings that finance most of what he does.
One winter afternoon
(at the magical hour
when is becomes if)
a bespangled clown
standing on eighth street
handed me a flower.
to say,observed him but
without any doubt he was
whatever(first and last)
mostpeople fear most:
a mystery for which i’ve
no word except alive
—that is,completely alert
and miraculously whole;
with not merely a mind and a heart
but unquestionably a soul-
by no means funereally hilarious
(or otherwise democratic)
but essentially poetic
or etherally serious:
a fine not a coarse clown
(no mob, but a person)
and while never saying a word
who was anything but dumb;
since the silence of him
self sang like a bird.
Most people have been heard
screaming for international
measures that render hell rational
—i thank heaven somebody’s crazy
enough to give me a daisy
Posted 01 May 2014 - 08:00 AM
Metro Meteor is a retired thoroughbred racehorse with congenitally bad knees and a fidgety personality. He was a star in his heyday, but after four and a half years of running hard (and winning big), and two operations to remove bone chips from his knees, he was not only no longer able to race, but he couldn’t even hold a rider.
Ron Krajewski, a former Air Force staff sergeant and animal-lover-turned-pet- portraitist, and his wife, Wendy, a flight attendant, were part of a consortium that owned Metro when he was working. When a veterinarian estimated that Metro had maybe two years of mobility left, they adopted him and assumed his care; he now lives at a stable in Rocky Ridge, Md. Mr. Krajewski, a self-taught artist, thought he might teach Metro to paint, too.
“I figured if he couldn’t be a horse, maybe I can teach him what I do,” Mr. Krajewski said.
Turns out that Metro, now 11, had a bit of a knack. Mr. Krajewski insinuates a brush dipped in paint into Metro’s mouth, and Metro goes to work, bobbing his head and smearing the brush across a canvas or hardboard. Mr. Krajewski tapes the brush handles so they don’t splinter in Metro’s mouth. (Metro has a vigorous stroke, and has broken a lot of brushes and ripped a lot of canvases.)
Metro at work.CreditMatt Roth for The New York Times
Now Metro is a demicelebrity, a sold-out artist at a gallery in Pennsylvania who has appeared on the “Today” show. Half of the proceeds of his painting sales go to the New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program, and the rest goes to his veterinary care, which is not cheap. And so this year, Metro has a licensing agreement with Dream Green USA, which is producing Metro totes ($79.99), Metro pillows ($69.99) and Metro wall art ($299), all made from organic cotton and recycled plastic bottles; Dream Green will donate a percentage of the sales to New Vocations. We weren’t able to get Metro on the phone last week, but we did speak to Mr. Krajewski. (The interview was edited and condensed.)
Q. How did you come to adopt a racehorse?
A. We owned 3 percent of him, and when it was time for him to retire, they offered him up to us. He was a lot more horse than we had bargained for. He was a really good racehorse, and when you’re winning, they ignore all the bad behavior. They can bite and kick and push you around, and it’s ignored on the track. But he was an outcast and branded as a dangerous horse. He didn’t like being touched. He was just cranky.
In the videos on his website, Metro seems very affectionate toward you, like a dog or a cat. Is that because you have treats in your pocket?
He’s very loyal to me, but I’m the first one he tries to bite. If I call him from the field, he’ll come running, and then he’ll bite me. He’s like the old man in the neighborhood who when you hit the baseball into his yard, he keeps it. But his family loves him. He’s a complex horse.
Metro's atelier. CreditMatt Roth for The New York Times
How many paintings has he made?
A couple hundred. We work eight at a time. It takes four days to do one painting, working on it one hour a day. He can’t do more than one color on the same day, because he’ll smear it. So we developed this process of one day, one color. It builds up these layers of depth. His brush strokes are so strong.
How did Metro get into the housewares business?
A horse can only paint so much; if we wanted to make more money to take care of him, we needed to look into licensing. Dream Green was willing to work with us and our charity, New Vocations.
Do horses see color?
Sales of Metro’s paintings, totes and pillows help pay for his veterinary care and assist a racehorse adoption program. CreditMatt Roth for The New York Times
I think they can see shades. I don’t know if Metro can see the canvas in front of him. Horses have eyes on the sides of their head, so there is a blind spot. I think he paints by feel. He knows where to stand and where the canvas is.
I loved the video of Metro using the paint pens, but I was worried he was going to eat one. Has he?
No, but he’s tough on the tips of those. He breaks brushes; he rips canvases. Sometimes he’s pretty violent. Sometimes he has a real soft brush stroke. These are temperamental artists.
Are you a temperamental artist?
I’m pretty easygoing.
What else besides tote bags and pillows do you see in Metro’s design future?
My dream is to see Jennifer Lawrence on the red carpet and they ask her what her dress is, and she says, “Christian Dior” and they ask what the bag is, and she says, “It’s a Metro.”
Edited by figmund, 01 May 2014 - 08:05 AM.
Posted 06 February 2019 - 12:50 AM
Edited by lindapoirier, 06 February 2019 - 01:27 PM.
Posted 06 February 2019 - 01:38 PM
Funny that of all Modern Art out there you still can't beat Art unearthed from early Syria, Iran, Rome ,Greece, Italy and Egypt.
Posted 09 February 2019 - 01:45 PM
Can you tell Miro was a buddy?
His Mom an artist did this of little "Sandy".
His Dad, an artist did this of little Sandy! Two parents who were Artists created little Sandy!
Edited by lindapoirier, 09 February 2019 - 01:45 PM.
Posted 09 February 2019 - 01:52 PM
First present to his parents at Christmas. How do you think this made his parents feel? Sure proud but as a boy he already surpassed their talent. Only me, an outsider observerer (read arsehole) would say it.
Still, he became a Mechanical Engineer before he even considered Art. But, I don't think you could do this without mathematics!!!
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