Christo and Jeanne-Claude
'Over the River' and through their words
By Robert Faires, Fri., April 7, 2006
A sold-out house at the Paramount may be the equivalent of the "Dog Bites Man" headline for performing artists such as Lyle Lovett in other words, old news but for a pair of visual artists? Now we're in "Man Bites Dog" territory. With 1,000-plus bodies packing the opera house last Thursday, March 30, clearly Austin wanted to hear what Christo and Jeanne-Claude had to say about their remarkable 45-year career of creating epic art and how work is progressing on their latest effort, the Over the River project in Colorado. The first half of this Austin Museum of Art program concerned the latter, with Christo narrating a slide show that detailed the project's scope and history: how the idea of suspending miles of fabric panels over a river was conceived in the early Nineties; how Christo, Jeanne-Claude, and the project team visited 89 rivers across the Rocky Mountains before settling on the Arkansas River in the Centennial State; how the bureaucracy they have to navigate is as treacherous as a stretch of whitewater (17 government agencies involving federal, state, and two counties); how they deal with the local communities; and how they've field-tested the cables and fabric to see how they'll behave in natural conditions. The presentation made this astonishing new artwork seem a more than worthy follow-up to The Gates, but also gave fresh insight into the care that Christo and Jeanne-Claude put into their projects on every level: the creative, the technical, and, most crucially, the human. The couple then spent close to an hour answering questions written out by audience members during an intermission. The queries ranged from the practical ("How are the project materials recycled?") to the personal ("How do you have the patience to spend years realizing a project?"), and the answers ranged from the intriguing (fabric for Wrapped Reichstag was shredded and laid under carpets) to the insightful ("It's not a matter of patience, it's a matter of passion."). The artists' priorities were made clear in an anecdote Jeanne-Claude told about being contacted by NASA some years ago. The agency wanted to see if the couple would do a project in space. Our work is made to be experienced by people, Jeanne-Claude responded. "When you've got lots of people up there, call us back."