The Value of the Ephemeral: Farewell to Christo

06 Jun 2020

For the course of his life, Christo was a spiritual genie. Far from following traditional artistic approaches, he recognised that artworks can only be seen to be truthful and authentic when they reflect the ephemerality of life itself. Accordingly, Christo produced artworks that only existed for a number of weeks, suchwrapped-upbuildings, bridges, landmarks, seacoasts, city parks or geologic formations, each becoming a temporary yet mesmerizing wonder of the world:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying,
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.’ -(Robert Herrick)


Since everything in the spatio-temporal world is contingent, we must follow Horace's dictum of “carpe diem” and grasp our opportunities while we can, a sentiment that is expressed bhe artist himself in a recent interview when referring to some of his installations: “There will never be another Running Fence or Floating Piers. If you didn’t see it, you missed it.“We have these two weeks with our precious babies,” Jeanne-Claude -Christo’s life partner similarly said. She continued: “As for me, I always feel physically, viscerally joined to the work.

Working closely with his wife, Jean Claude, the artists' couple signature works couldn’t be commodified because of their ephemeral nature. Moreover, during a talk at the Harvard School of Design in 2016, Christo claimed that he would never let someone pay to experience his works, and that no one could ever buy his projects’ “freedom”:

Freedom is the enemy of possession, and possession is permanence.

Christo has taught us, therefore, that art should be, like him, nomadic. His artworks inspired spontaneous responses and fully engaged us. Following this line of thought, it would be incorrect to talk about an 'audience' when it comes to the visitors of Christo’s art. People directly engaged with Christo's installations and were thus able to achieve experiences that would have been unthinkable before the realisation of the said work.


Photos on top: Christo, The Floating Piers, Lake Iseo, Italy, 2016, Courtesy of the artist's website: Wolfgang Volz © 2016 Christo

In this regard, Christo's 2016’s installation over the Italian Lake Iseo is unforgettable; countless visitors were able to step onto the artwork – sometimes even in bare-feet – in order to completely immerse themselves in the natural surroundings. By allowing the visitor to 'walk on water' in this way, Christo enabled them to perform something that only the Gods had previously 'experienced'. “When we install three kilometres of a floating pier, what you experience is three kilometres of a floating pier —meaning, you have to walk the three kilometres on the water. You are exposed to real elements: sun, wind, rain, fear.”

As underlined by Christo’s words, nature was a fundamental component of his work: the artist used lands as his personal canvas, harmoniously displacing on them temporary triumphs of vision. For instance, Umbrellas (1991) was an installation made of more than 3,100 blue and yellow umbrellas spread across inland valleys in Japan and California. Such a simultaneous displacement of art unifies mankind: with his Umbrellas Christo aimed at showing how each person, be they Japanese or American, is moved by the same necessities, such as the protection from heat or rain. On the other hand, by adopting different colours, he aimed to represent the unique colour palette in the landscape of the two countries: Japan with its blue watery rice fields and California with his yellowish sand deserts.

May we throughout our lives be fuelled by the same indefatigable attitude that Christo and Jeanne Claude always displayed in their artistic practice: outstanding works require, naturally, tireless preparations. It took several years to finally obtain the permission to wrap monuments such as the Reichstag in Berlin, following years of navigating through the correct channels of bureaucracy.

For Christo, his life as an artist began by learning how to comply to the propaganda requirements insisted upon by the Bulgarian Communist regime. In spite of this, he managed to develop an very individualistic form of artistic production which aimed at liberating people, rather than indoctrinating them. The project to wrap the Reichstag took 24 years, three official refusals, and the fall of Communism before it was completed in 1995, but, in the end, it became true and stood as the affirmation of his own freedom.

More recently, in the Summer of 2018, he surprised us all again with his London Mastaba, located in the middle of the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park. The sculpture, made of 7,506 oil barrels, had been conceived by the artist-couple, but, unfortunately, only Christo had the chance to actually see it, as Jeanne-Claude died in 2009.

Similarly, an instillation in which the Arc of Triumph in Paris will be wrapped-up, which is expected to be completed in October 2021, is set to continue without the artist. For Christo, the transient quality of his art was a reflection on the ephemeral nature of human existence; although he will not be able to experience for himself his forthcoming work, his visitors will bear witness to his final 'temporary' triumph. (Text by Chiara Aluigi)


SELECTED UPCOMING LOTS AT AUCTION



Left: Christo - The Gates. Project for Central Park, New York City; 1992; Right: Christo & Jeanne-Claude - Package on a hand truck (Project), 1973

Christo, 1935, Wrapped Trees, Project for the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Paris, 1987
Lithograph printed in colors and collage. Transparent polyethylene, thread and staple, in acrylic glass case. See Date & Price Estimate...

Christo & Jeanne-Claude - Package on a hand truck (Project), 1973
Signed Christo and dated 1973. Charcoal, pencil, fabric, string, staples, cardboard. See Date & Price Estimate...


Left: Christo - The Gates. Project for Central Park, New York City; 1992; Right: Christo & Jeanne-Claude - Wrapped Automobile (Project for 1950 Studebaker Champion Series 9G Coupe)

Christo - The Gates. Project for Central Park, New York City; 1992
Collage: watercolour, wax crayon, opaque white, ballpoint pen, pencil and photography on cardboard on wood. Signed, dated and titled 'THE GATES/project For Central Park, New York City Christo 1992'. See Date & Price Estimate...

Christo & Jeanne-Claude - Wrapped Automobile (Project for 1950 Studebaker Champion Series 9G Coupe)
Lithograph printed in colours with hand-colouring in pencil and collage of broadcloth, cardstock and thread, 2015, on wove mounted to board as issued, signed, dated and inscribed 'HC' in pencil, an hors commerce impression aside from the numbered edition of 200 in pencil. See Date & Price Estimate...



Left: Christo - Store Front (Project); Right: Christo - Wedding Dress, 1967

Christo - Store Front (Project)
(Mandarin yellow from “Red Devil” enamel), 1965, titled, signed, dated Christo 1965. Collage, technique: enamel paint, charcoal, pencil, vellum on light card, with staple clamps on cardboard. See Date & Price Estimate...

Christo - Wedding Dress, 1967
Graphite on tracing paper. Signed and dated to lower right 'Christo 1967'. See Date & Price Estimate...



SELECTED LOTS SOLD AT PAST AUCTIONS



Left: Christo - The Pont Neuf, Wrapped (Project for Paris); Right: Christo - Packed Coast (Project for Lillte Bay New South Wales Australia), 1969

Christo - The Pont Neuf, Wrapped (Project for Paris)
Signed, titled and dated 'Christo 1985 THE PONT NEUF, WRAPPED (Project for Paris)' (lower left of upper element). Plexiglas box construction—graphite, wax crayon, pastel, charcoal, ink and printed aerial photograph on paper mounted on board, in two parts. Executed in 1985. See Sale Price...

Christo - Packed Coast (Project for Lillte Bay New South Wales Australia), 1969
Mixed media and collage on cardboard laid on panel. Signed and dated on the front: Christo 1969. See Sale Price...



Left: Christo- The Gates (Project for New York City); Right: Christo (American, born 1935) The Pont Neuf Wrapped (Project For Paris)

Christo- The Gates (Project for New York City)
i. Signed, titled and dated 2002; signed, dated 2002 and numbered 19A on the reverse.
ii. Signed, dated 2002 and numbered 19B on the reverse. See Sale Price...

Christo - The Pont Neuf Wrapped (Project For Paris), in two parts, 1979
Signed, titled and dated 1979 on the upper panel; variously inscribed on the reverse of each panel pastel, wax crayon, charcoal, graphite and printed paper on card laid on board, in a Perspex frame. See Sale Price...



Left: Christo - Wrapped Reichstag (Project of Berlin), 1986; Right: Christo, Surrounded Islands, Project for Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida, 1982

Christo - Wrapped Reichstag (Project of Berlin)
Pencil, twine, pastel, charcoal, fabric and paper applied on wood in plexiglass case. Two elements. Signed, titled and dated 1986 Signed and dated 1986 on the back Provenance Art Front Gallery, Tokyo Private collection, Milan . See Sale Price...

Christo, Surrounded Islands, Project for Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida, 1982
Fabric, pastel, charcoal, pencil and Photostat on paper, in 2 parts. Signed "Christo 1982" upper left on top element. See Sale Price...


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