I first discovered Christo and Jean-Claude’s work in an unusual and interesting book about relationships in 20thC art, architecture and science by O.B.Hardison ‘Disappearing Through the Skylight’ given to me by my friend Alan Wilson. It was written in the late eighties so although tech has moved on a fair bit it is still quite stimulating, taking in Mandelbrot’s Fractals, Concrete Poetry and other varied ideas!
Hardison looked at the artist partnership’s (they work as a team, although initially in the sixties Jean-Claude’s name wasn’t added to works) ‘Running Fence’ (1972), a twenty-four and a half mile long white fabric, post and wire fence running gracefully and glinting in the sun through Californian ranches to the coast, literally into the sea. He wrote of it: “The fence has no functional use; it must be therefore be seen in aesthetic terms as a frame for the natural landscape and an assertion of linearity in contrast to the irregular natural contours of the hills through which it cuts.” I think it also, like a lot of their work, a sculptural thing of great beauty inspiring for art connoisseurs and the wider public too. (Please use the link below to the artist website for Running Fence images taken from 1972 to 76 as the project went on.)
They are recognised as major and influential conceptual artists due partly to the unprecedented ambitious scale of the industrial fabrics and other materials they use. Having three or four projects on the go at once has been essential for them as it can take many years to sort out permissions for planning etc, and when they get the go ahead concentrate their energies on the one project. The wrapping and concealing of coastlines in Australia or famous structures like the Pont Neuf in Paris or the German Reichstag actually reawakens the viewer’s view of the world, breaking down ideas and discriminations of what is an artwork or a building, and creating really intriguing connections between the man-made and the natural, as well as simplifying the forms. They are elements I have found very powerful in these works. The more recent huge Mastaba pyramid of old oil drums in the desert near Abu Dhabi is a much more solid enigmatic artwork, the textured oil drums reminiscent of Christo’s smaller works from Paris in the 60’s (see image below). There is recycling here on a large scale but not eco art at all – man and nature are in unison with all the trappings of infrastructure, so highways and cityscape etc are never ignored, all are part of the backdrop and a viewing platform for the ‘sensual’ or ‘nomadic’ use of fabic as Christo described in his Tokyo lecture at the end of last year, where ‘humans build their habitats in space’. Here is the link to their website plus a quote on the Mastaba artwork, and some images.
The Mastaba will be a work of art made of approximately 410,000 horizontally stacked oil barrels secured to an inner structure.
The grandeur and vastness of the land will be reflected in the dimensions of The Mastaba, which will have two vertical walls, two slanted walls and a truncated top: 492 feet (150 meters) high, 738 feet (225 meters) deep at the 60 degree slanted walls, 984 feet (300 meters) wide at the vertical walls.