I've been meaning to post whats left of this essay. Sorry (as if anyone's been waiting). I'll be doing it in three more parts (five in total). I promise not to wait so long to post the last two.
You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the Politics of their Art: How they are (shrewdly and discreetly) Socialist, Anti-American and Revolutionary - part 3
The Christos in fact have a corporation. Their permanent corporation for managing funds and other administrative work, the CVJ Corporation, is run by Jeanne-Claude. They also often form an additional temporary corporation for each of their major projects. In 1991 they formed The Umbrellas, Joint Project for Japan and U.S.A. Corporation of which Jeanne-Claude Christo-Javacheff was, of course, president. Christo is quoted as stating that art should reflect and be of the time it is made, a reason for emphasizing the methodical corporatization of their art. The fact that their art is temporary only emphasizes their odd (yet effective) marriage between commerce and art. Historically “it was necessary to be profoundly religious,” but now Christo points out, we are “an essentially economical, social and political world.” For this reason “any art that is less political, less economical, less social today, is simply less contemporary.” Acting, almost parodying, as a corporation serves them brilliantly, lulling closer and then enlightening their audience. “[Our] project[s] [are] teasing society,” Christo explains, “and society responds, in a way, as it responds in a very normal situation like building bridges, or roads, or highways. What we know is different is that all this energy is put to a fantastic irrational purpose, and that is the essence of the work.” Their work is “teasing society” and its values on multiple levels, as well as the microcosm that is the art world. Their work is an immensely valuable example, most likely the best, of “all of the paradoxical conditions under which artworks must be produced, distributed, and consumed today.” In their work they “deliberately exploit all the mechanisms of capitalism” “then they negate capitalism’s most distinctive feature, namely the accumulation of capital, and leave people incredulous.” Christo resourcefully compares their 1980-83 work Surrounded Islands to a movie-set:
I think the project has some kind of subversive dimension and this is why we have so many problems. Probably all the opposition, all the criticism of the project is basically that issue. If we spend three million dollars for a movie-set there would be no opposition. They can even burn the islands to be filmed and there would be no problem. The great power of the project is because it is absolutely irrational. This is the idea of the project, that the project put in doubt all the values.
A spectator might even go as far as to compare his own life with that of the Christos who are seemingly fulfilled, successful, and powerful yet contently penniless. Is it necessary to play by the rules of a corrupt societal system in order to live and create freely? The Christos’ answer would be "yes" and a louder, more meaningful "no." In watching a documentary on their work one notices the immense undertaking the planning of each project can be, but also the serene beauty and great fulfillment the completion of such a work can provide in contrast. In this sense, each of their works is a performance, one that can be scrutinized and admired on film and in print. The stark contrast between the two states of being, during and after a hectic production, brings into question the hectic acquisitive lifestyle many lead today, primarily in the capitalistic market-driven countries of the West.
The Umbrellas, which this writer considers the best example of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s subversive powers at work, was a strikingly beautiful, immediately engaging conversation amongst viewers in two continents separated by the largest body of water on Earth. Viewed by over 3 million people, the suggestion that each viewer’s respective country was not the only one on the planet must have, at one point or another, entered their minds. Viewers of the yellow umbrellas in California could not help but think about what was simultaneously happening with a comparable amount of blue umbrellas in Japan and vice versa, not to mention each country’s distinct cultural values and ideals, economic system, climate and landscape, and other innumerable factors. The work got people, including those simply passing by during their daily routines, to see beyond their everyday. The Umbrellas was gloriously defiant, its mesmerizing beauty proving astute and cunning. This was the Christos at their subversive best. The project was viewed primarily, more so than any other of their works and most likely any other art work before or since, “from the automobile, the ubiquitous chariot of both California and Japan.” Beyond that, it got those who were passing by to stop, get out from their autos, and explore and interact with the umbrellas. The Umbrellas directly brought politics into the Christos’ work and the lives of those visiting the works’ multiple sites. Viewers were forced to deal with distinct political bureaucracies and several regional boundaries in order to see the work.
To be continued. For references, leave me a comment.