Gazing into the mind of Christo
VAIL – Where Christo goes, controversy tends to follow. From his recent success with “The Gates” in New York’s Central Park to a muddled attempt to put a curtain across Rifle Gap in Colorado more than 30 years ago, the artist’s penchant for large-scale, highly public and ephemeral works of art tends to elicit strong feelings and questions.Is it art, a public works project or a nuisance?Wouldn’t the money (approximately $22 million for “The Gates”) be better spent elsewhere?Why?
What’s next?The only one of those questions that’s really answerable is the last. Christo and his wife and partner Jeanne-Claude are once again turning their attention to Colorado, with an ambitious plan to cover the Arkansas River near Salida with fabric panels. That project – titled “Over the River – could be installed as early as 2008.For the present, though, there’s still plenty to mull over about “The Gates,” and two people who were involved with the project will be in Vail to talk about it Thursday, Sept. 8. There is a Vail-Christo connection, and it goes like this: In 1972, when Christo was mounting the Valley Curtain project near Rifle, some artists attending the Vail Summer Workshop went over to have a look. Two of those artists were Jane Gregorius and Lynda Watson, who will be the presenters next week.”We heard about this guy Christo who was putting up a curtain in Rifle,” Gregorius said, speaking on the phone from her home in Santa Cruz, Calif. “We thought it was very odd; we didn’t understand it so we decided to go see it.”The Valley Curtain project was fraught with problems and delays, and some of the people working on it had to leave before it was completed. Gregorius and her friends got hired to help – a cadre that included local gallery owners Randy Milhoan and Dan Telleen. Also on hand was Watson and former Vail photographer Tom Lamb. (Lamb will be at Milhoan’s gallery in Minturn this weekend with photos of “The Gates.”)
Gregorius went on to do another five of Christo’s projects, working primarily as a public relations contact. Since most of those who work on Christo’s jumbo works of art tend to focus on one area, she said her position enabled her to see more of the whole project.”They’re very ingenious about coming up with ideas about how to make things work,” Gregorius said about Christo and Jeanne-Claude. During the installation of “The Gates,” Gregorius said the crew met every day in the Boathouse at Central Park for an elaborate lunch. The two artists were always there, she said, offering encouragement and mingling.”They were busy as hell, but they always took time to talk to people, autograph things. It was fabulous.”American Dream
Gregorius said people often wonder about Christo’s projects and what they mean. Some even get angry about them, she said.”‘Why isn’t the money being spent on a hospital?’ is one of the questions that always comes up,” she said. “But the point is they’re spending their own money. It’s like the American Dream: You make your money, you can do what you want with it. And think of what gets spent on a single football game, or the SuperBowl.”Gregorius pointed out that Christo and Jeanne-Claude don’t take money from foundations or grants. Christo is a prolific drawer, and his drawings fetch a lot of money which, in turn, funds the large art projects.Thursday, Gregorius and Watson will present a slide show demonstrating how “The Gates” was implemented. Gregorius said they’ll start with an overview of Christo’s past work, then talk about how “The Gates” was pulled together.”It’s pretty interesting, what it was like to work on it and how we actually did it,” she said. “There were 7,500 gates, and we’ll get into how they were made, the balance, and the considerations from an engineering standpoint.”
Gregorius and Watson will then show how the individual fabric gates were unfurled, and what it looked like upon completion. Following that will be a discussion of the Over the River project and a question-and-answer session. They will also show a “60 Minutes” episode where Morley Safer interviews Christo and Jeanne-Claude right after “The Gates” went up.”It’s very funny, and you get to see the gates in motion,” she said.Thursday’s presentation, which is free, is set to take place in the Vail Library community room from 5:30-7 p.m. A reception will follow at Soke Studio in Minturn. For more information, call the Vail Symposium at 476-0954.Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 615, or email@example.com.
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