All photographs by Wolfgang Volz ©Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
The artist Christo, part of the husband and wife duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude, passed away of natural causes at his home in Manhattan on May 31, 2020. The artist and his wife were globally renown for their large-scale artistic interventions, most recently for The Floating Piers in Lake Iseo, Italy and The London Mastaba in Serpentine Lake. Here in New York City, the stunning piece, The Gates, in Central Park in 2005 show a scale of artistic vision perhaps never to be seen again in the city.
From February 12 to February 28, 2005, the artists displayed a series of 7,503 gates that stretched for 23 miles, each 16 feet high with free-hanging saffron colored fabric panels. They described The Gates as “a golden river appearing and disappearing through the bare branches of the trees.” The project also referenced the city surrounding, as “the luminous moving fabric will underline the organic and serpentine design of the walkways, while the rectangular poles will be a reminder of the grid pattern of the City blocks around the park,” the artists describe in the a pamphlet produced in connection to the project. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that The Gates would “challenge viewers to revisit their preconceptions of public art and urban parks.”
Christo and Jeanne-Claude at The Gates, February 2005. Photo by Wolfgang Volz ©Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
Bloomberg also described the long effort to make the vision: “For the artists, this temporary exhibition will represent the realization of a vision first imagined for Central Park over a quarter of a century ago. The patient efforts of Christo and JeanneClaude, who would never let go of their dream, have finally been realized, and The Gates is perhaps the most exciting work of their legendary career.”
Christo at The Floating Piers, June 2016. Photo by Wolfgang Volz ©Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
The artists explain that the idea came to them when they first emigrated from Europe in 1964, after fleeing Bulgaria — first to Prague, then Vienna, then Geneva, to Paris, and finally to New York City. In Paris, Christo met Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon who became his wife (she died in 2009). Inspired by the pedestrian activity in New York City, the artists state that “Our attention turned toward the vast flow of people walking through the streets. The resulting proposal was The Gates, a project directly related to the human scale, to be sited in Central Park.” Central Park was also a meaningful place for their son, who they say “loved to climb the beautiful rocks. Central Park was a part of our life.”
The Gates, Central Park, New York City, 2005. Photo by Wolfgang Volz ©Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
We love this quote from the Christo and Jeanne-Claude, which explains the beauty and ephemerality of their art: “Our works are temporary in order to endow the works of art with a feeling of urgency to be seen, and the love and tenderness brought by the fact that they will not last. Those feelings are usually reserved for other temporary things such as childhood and our own life. These are valued because we know that they will not last. We want to offer this feeling of love and tenderness to our works, as an added value (dimension) and as an additional aesthetic quality.”
According to the the statement from Christo’s office upon his death, “Christo lived his life to the fullest, not only dreaming up what seemed impossible but realizing it. Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s artwork brought people together in shared experiences across the globe, and their work lives on in our hearts and memories.” Their work in progress will continue, as “Christo and Jeanne-Claude have always made clear that their artworks in progress be continued after their deaths.” This includes a wrapping of the Arc de Triomphe, scheduled for September 18 – October 3, 2021 and a major exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris about Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s work and time Paris will also be on view this year, from July 1–October 19, 2020. The artists also have never-realized plans in New York City to wrap 1 Times Square and buildings in Lower Manhattan.