He’s a living legend of the contemporary art world, and at the age of 81, Christo is a walking miracle too.
Highly vivacious, with an infectious enthusiasm, his whole life has been focused towards his craft, bringing art projects to life with a pugnacious determination.
In 2009 he lost his French wife Jeanne-Claude, who was the linchpin of his gigantic works and with whom he co-signed each of them, but he perseveres without her. ‘What counts is beauty. Each project is beautiful and superfluous. I don’t take orders from anyone. Each project exists because Jeanne-Claude and I wanted it to exist.’ On the day we meet in St. Paul de Vence, the ultra-dynamic artist had risen at 4am to reach the Fondation Maeght from Italy (on 16 June, for sixteen days, he’s installing The Floating Piers, a three-kilometre-long pontoon that cuts an ephemeral path across the Lake Iseo, 100km from Milan) and was brimming with energy.
Discussing his Italian project, he states:
‘We’re always working on two or three projects at the same time. In 50 years we have mounted 22 projects, and 37 were rejected. Some were created with a specific location in mind, like the Pont Neuf Wrapped in 1985 in Paris. Others are amenable to different sites.’ Christo, in fact, has perfected a visual vocabulary that can be divided into three categories.
From the beginning of his career, he has produced not only those wraps for which he is best known, but also window displays and coloured industrial barrel structures.
All summer the acclaimed Fondation Maeght in Saint Paul de Vence is devoting its spaces to a project that Christo first conceived and drew for venue in 1967-8: a coloured Mastaba. Christo here revisits the form of the mastaba, an Egyptian tomb featuring a flat roof.
He first flirted with the idea in 1964 for MoMA in New York, but it was never realised.
Since then the concept has blossomed, whether it’s in the small recycled tin cans or in the project that might be realised one day or another, and which he’s been working on for several years: a Mastaba in the Abu Dhabi desert 400 times bigger than the one currently installed in the very beautiful courtyard of the Maeght Foundation.
In Saint Paul, the drums usually reserved for transporting things like oil are dazzlingly new and coloured to the artist’s specifications.
A mass of shades that when seen sideways on resembles a gouache palette with its sequence of colours. Nine metres tall and 17 metres wide, the ‘monument’ in 1076 barrels is organised as a game of colours.
It was created, according to the director of the foundation, Olivier Kaeppelin, in terms of the Mediterranean spectrum: red, blue, orange.
In the Cote d’Azur sunshine, his metallic mastaba flickers with a thousand fires.
He wanted beauty. He achieved it.
But beyond purely aesthetic considerations, should we view this installation as a comment on the political and economic problems arising from oil?
In the opinion of Olivier Kaeppelin: ‘Certainly not. While it’s true that Christo has always been interested in objects with a relation to transport and nomadism, as an artist he does not seek to flesh out liberal or Marxist ideas.
He has a strong aversion to ideology. Remember that he fled communist Bulgaria.’
The entire system rests on an economic principle that Christo is proud to announce is a case study at Harvard Business School ‘on the same footing as those systems implemented by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.’ Christo is not looking for any sponsor or any public funding.
His aim is freedom and beauty and he’s achieved it.
Christo is a living legend of the contemporary art world.
Christo is a walking miracle.