ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Internationally renowned American wrap artists Christo and his late wife Jeanne-Claude cut a wide swath through the installation art world for more than 50 years.
Their efforts are chronicled in a multimedia exhibition titled “Cristo and Jeanne-Claude: The Tom Golden Collection” at the Albuquerque Museum.
The show features a stunning array of documentary videos, original drawings, color sketches, collages, silkscreen prints and sculptural maquettes. The collection is a revealing showcase of the couple’s rendering skills and their project conceptualization abilities.
The couple used money from the sale of their preliminary sketches, final drawings and prints to fund the large-scale installations. In some cases millions of dollars were required. It is the magical belief that such things are possible that made their careers a reality.
Over the years Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped buildings, bridges, statues, motorcycles and other objects. They also hung a curtain in a Colorado valley, built a 26-mile-long pristine white “Running Fence” across farm and ranch land along the California coast and in separate installations even wrapped an island or two.
Christo’s compulsion to temporarily wrap or veil existing structures and landscape features with fibrous materials is a means to momentarily transform them and ask observers to see well-known landmarks in a different way.
At the movies we’ve all seen the black 1940 sedan with a crumpled right front fender stuck in a rain gorged ditch as the hapless couple huddles under the only raincoat while wending their way up the winding and often muddy drive to the mansion, as lightning flashes backlight the forbidding multistory structure.
Depending on the plot line they are either greeted by a hunchback lab assistant or break a window to get out of the storm.
In either case, once inside they are surrounded by furniture wrapped in ghostly white, albeit dusty sheets that do not welcome a leisurely sit down.
Imagine the same scene while stumbling across an ancient stone bridge in Rome and you have a sense of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s aesthetic.
When “Running Fence” was built in 1974 local landowners discovered that even when they approved of the project they had to answer to government regulations that required permits and otherwise tangled the project in hundreds of yards of red tape.
Christo conceived “Running Fence” as an aesthetic statement but also was aware of the regulatory confrontations that would occur. The political ramifications and the impact of public art on private property rights or the lack of them were an integral part of much of what Christo and Jeanne-Claude accomplished around the world.
If you love drawings as a reflection of an artist’s mindset and hand skills, this exhibition brims with some serious eye candy. Christo’s rendering of “The Gates” for New York’s Central Park is filled with perspective lines that reveal the architectural context for a long series of structures with hanging saffron colored curtains following walkways throughout the park.
The squared-off gates echo the geometric buildings that form the city’s skyline as well as act as a backdrop for Christo and Jeanne Claude’s installation.
“The Ponte Saint Angelo, Wrapped” by Christo and Jeanne-Claude is a collage and photomontage documenting their ancient bridge wrapping project in Rome. The exhibition also features a documentary video covering the project as it was executed on site surrounded by spectators and government officials.
“Texas Mastaba” by Christo and Jeanne-Claude was conceived to be built from thousands of empty oil drums and refers to an ancient Egyptian “house for eternity” or burial tomb for kings.
The couple also designed a similar but much larger structure titled “Abu Dabi Mastaba” using millions of oil drums. These are powerful environmental statements about our use of fossil fuels to temporarily power our current way of life. Building tombs from oil drums is a chilling concept.
“Wrapped Statues” was a piece conceived in Italy as a means to re-conceptualize traditional sculpture and to soften rigid stone with a layer of cloth.
A 19th-century poem by Charles Pierre Baudelaire described a sleeping rabbit that was awakened and scurried away. The poem focused on the depression left in the grass by the rabbit as the leaves slowly regained their vertical shapes.
Baudelaire saw the transitory effects of the rabbit as a metaphor for the impact of artists on the world. Thanks to collectors like Tom Golden and the Albuquerque Museum of Art & History, Christo and Jeanne-Claude will be remembered as they too rise from the grass.