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Wrapped into the folds

Special to the Daily/Randy MilhoanChristo and Jeanne-Claudes Valley Curtain stands in Rifle Canyon for its 28-hour lifespan on Aug. 10, 1972. The curtain, which measured 1,250 feet in length and 182 feet in height, was destroyed by the wind after the artists and their crew put 28 months of work into the project.
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It doesn’t take a giant orange curtain or huge metallic panels to appeal to Dan Telleen’s sense of aesthetic. Telleen, a Vail jewelry maker, appreciates all kinds of art. His house is full of masks, African folding chairs, textbooks and biographies of individual artists, including an extensive collection documenting the works of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. “But this story isn’t about me,” Telleen says within the first two minutes of watching a reporter poke around his house.No. He’s right. This story is about other artists.Telleen carefully unfolds a set of yellowed blueprints. They are the originals from Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “Valley Curtain” project in Rifle, circa 1970-72. The sketches are from an engineering firm in Denver, which Christo and Jeanne-Claude selected for their project in 1971 after the first failed attempt to hoist the orange curtain. The curtain spanned 1,250 feet between the walls of Rifle Canyon and measured 182 feet in height. Telleen has several original blueprints from Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s projects. He even has pieces of the projects themselves.For those unfamiliar with the duo, Bulgarian-born Christo Vladimirov Javacheff and French-born Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon, both 70, have been making a name for themselves since the 1950s with several pieces around the world, which are as much colossal societal undertakings as they are works of art.”They’re always way larger than life,” said fellow local artist Randy Milhoan of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s projects. Milhoan, like Telleen, was on-site during the unfurling of the “Valley Curtain,” and photographically documented the piece’s short life span (after 28 months of work, the curtain was up for 28 hours before the wind blew holes through it.

“These projects are way larger than any building or earth work that other artists have executed,” Milhoan said. “Part of it is the interactions with other people that work on it – the contractors, the construction workers, police, media, critics. It ends up being a multi-human event.”What kind of art is it?There’s really no other way to describe it. Several people have pigeon-holed Christo and Jeanne-Claude as “wrappers,” but their wrapped pieces have been just a portion of their body of work (walk ways in Kansas, a bridge in Paris, a few buildings in Manhattan, a Roman wall, a woman, a museum, a tree … those kinds of things). Telleen stayed at the couple’s apartment while visiting New York earlier this year and, from his first introduction at the “Valley Curtain,” has worked on several of their projects, including the “Walk Ways,” the “Running Fence” in Sonoma County, Calif., the “Umbrellas” in Japan, the “Gates” in New York City and the prototype for the Over the River project, the latter for which Christo and Jeanne-Claude were recently visiting Salida. “Over the River” has been several years in conception. The project aims to place seven miles of fabric panels across the Arkansas River over a 42-mile stretch between Salida and Canyon City. Why would anyone want to do such a thing, some ask? Especially when the project, which involved 14,000 miles of driving to scout the perfect river and has already cost Christo and Jeanne-Claude around $2 million. The couple’s official Web site, http://www.christojeanneclaude.net, has an answer:”Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s works are entire environments, whether they are urban or rural. The artists temporarily use one part of the environment. In doing so, we see and perceive the whole environment with new eyes and a new consciousness. The effect is astounding. To be in the presence of one of these artworks is to have your reality rocked. You see things you have never seen before. You also get to see the fabric manifest things that cannot usually be seen, like the wind blowing or the sun reflecting in ways it had not before.”Telleen has experienced this reality first hand every time he works on a project with the Christos, as he calls the artists. He first visited the “Valley Curtain” project with students from a summer art workshop in Vail. The project was a specimen for a class on conceptual art. At that time, Telleen knew very little about Christo and Jeanne-Claude, other than that they were artists who “had kind of goofy projects.”

It took a day of being stationed for the tie down of the Valley Curtain and witnessing what he describes as “an incredible roar as the thing unfurled” to be sold on the concept for a lifetime.A Neat fit into fleeting trends”The importance of it, I just didn’t know it back then. It sounded wacky,” Telleen said. “But, once you were involved in it, it was working on something bigger than yourself. As a jeweler, working on these projects over the years, it’s important to work on things that are huge once in a while. It expands my experience.” Telleen was one of the lucky 250 to attend Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s sold-out presentation in Salida two weeks ago. There, he was reminded of all the elements necessary for the artwork to come to fruition and how symbolic the elements are to the work.”The Christos, being involved with permits and governments, using the land for a project, it’s very contemporary when you think about our society and how intertwined we are with government and getting permission to do things,” Telleen said.



Telleen also pointed out that the projects are never in place for more than two weeks, after which time not a trace of them remains on the site.”With the temporary quality of the projects, there’s an urgency to see it before it’s gone,” Telleen said. “That sure is a part of our society. We’re a throw-away society whether you eat at McDonalds or get a new car knowing in three years you’ll get another new one. But with the Christos’ work, the effect lasts longer than the actual work of art. Years after every physical trace has been removed and the materials recycled, original visitors can still see and feel them in their minds when they return to the sites of the artworks.”If the “Over the River” project gets approval, the earliest possible completion will be July of 2008. The work will be displayed over the Arkansas River for two weeks.Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or sfarnell@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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