The Gates (Project for Central Park, New York City), 1996 by Christo (American, b. 1935)
Mixed media on two panels; courtesy of the Ferguson Collection
november 4, 2009
Wrap Stars The Gibbes Museum of Art announces a Spring 2010 visit by world-renowned artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude of New York City’s The Gates fame
WRITTEN BY IDA BECKER
There’s a conspiracy afoot. So says Gibbes Museum of Art director Angela Mack, who recently announced a lecture, dinner, and block party that will bring internationally celebrated artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude to Charleston next April.
Heralded for their astounding-albeit-temporary works of art, Christo and Jeanne-Claude have been wrapping and surrounding both man-made structures and landscapes since 1961. There was the luminous 18-foot-tall white fabric fence that skimmed across 24.5 miles of rolling farmland in Sonoma and Marin counties, north of San Francisco, for 14 days in 1976; the 6.5-million square feet of hot-pink fabric that surrounded 11 islands in Miami’s Biscayne Bay for two weeks in 1983; and the 3,100 blue and yellow umbrellas that simultaneously dotted two valleys—one north of Tokyo, the other north of Los Angeles—for 18 days in 1991. But of their robust body of work, Christo and Jeanne-Claude are perhaps best known for one of their more recent installations: The Gates, a serpentine river of saffron that wound through New York City’s Central Park in brilliant juxtaposition against the blanched skyline of the gritty, steel metropolis.
The installation sparked a swell of articles and blog postings that fiercely debated the question “what constitutes art?” What emerged was akin to an avant-garde culture manifesto that pressed people to broaden the notion of art as more than a pretty picture hanging in a frame. Although The Gates project took more than 25 years from conception to fruition, the 7,503 freestanding, tangerine-colored, flag-furled structures captivated New Yorkers—and the world—for a mere 16 days. However brief, the self-financed multi-million-dollar installation infused an estimated $254 million into the city's economy.
As for the conspiracy? Years ago, Mack and local philanthropist Esther Ferguson mused how incredible it would be if Christo and Jeanne-Claude were to wrap the—alas, now-imploded—John P. Grace and Silas N. Pearman bridges, but the artists are mavericks: they accept neither financial support nor site suggestions for their eye-popping, thought-provoking installations. So it is the hope of lecture organizers that the pair will happen to discover the “wrap-ability” of our Charleston icons during their April visit. The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge or the U.S.S. Yorktown, perhaps?
As with any good conspiracy, synchronicity abounds. Mack announced the lecture a week ago Saturday at a party hosted by Laura and Steve Gates. The party was draped in swaths of pink (a nod to the Biscayne Bay installation) with local artist John Dunnan’s sculptural figures clinging to the piazza columns. In attendance were Ferguson and her husband, Jim, who are lending their extensive private art collection, including two of Christo’s mixed-media pieces to the Gibbes for the exhibition “Modern Masters from the Ferguson Collection” (April 30 – August 22, 2010).
And while this last tidbit is admittedly a tenuous connection, it’s worth mentioning: In 1968, fire laws prevented Christo and Jeanne-Claude from wrapping an Italian opera house; however, they spun their magical treatment around a fountain and a medieval tower during that year’s Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto—Charleston’s sister city.