Saturday, November 21, 2009


In this Jan. 7, 2005 file photo, artists Christo, left, and his wife Jeanne-Claude discuss their Central Park art project “The Gates, Central Park, New York, 1979-2005” as they walk in New York's Central Park. Jeanne-Claude died Wednesday night Nov. 18, 2009 at a New York hospital from complications of a brain aneurysm. She was 74. Caption taken from the AP FILE — (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

Reading the morning newspaper I came across an obituary piece about the passing of Jeanne-Claude last Wednesday night and I was saddened. It brought back memories, too.

As an MFA student at Western Michigan University in 1977, I and a few other students had the opportunity to meet and engage in conversation with Christo and Jeanne-Claude. They came to WMU for a few days as guest artists along with curator/author Jan Vander Marck, who had became very close to Christo and Jeanne-Claude and was an early advocate of their projects. At Western, as in many other venues, they discussed their philosophy and work such as the Valley Curtain Project in Rifle Gap, Colorado (1972). And just few months before coming to see us they had finished Running Fence (1976) in Marin County, California. Having just completed the documentary film about Running Fence, they brought it along with them and gave a running commentary while we watched the movie. It was absolutely inspiring and delightful to be there with the two of them.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972–76, © Christo, 1976, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum Purchase, Photo by Wolfgang Volz.

They were influential in that I learned how to develop skills in working with a public audience. In subsequent years it has proven to be very helpful as a graphic designer and artist working for clients, committees, church councils, and boards of directors. Through the insights into Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s art-making and implementation process of public art installation projects I was able to develop a firm yet patient attitude toward the client while working with and for an audience. Their work at times could be controversial with local governments and environment groups. However, Christo and Jeanne-Claude practiced without intimidating people and always, in my opinion, seemed gracious. This is something I’ve tried to practice in my own work for over thirty years.

A few years ago I asked that Dordt’s library purchase the video series of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s body of work. Art and design students should check them out. One interesting feature of the boxed DVD set is a running commentary audio by Christo and Jeanne-Claude while the movie is playing, similar to what I heard over thirty years ago. It’s priceless!

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