The Corner

Art

Two of a Kind

Artists Christo (right) and Jeanne-Claude during a news conference in Zurich, Switzerland, in 2006 (Reuters)

In Impromptus today, I begin with the space launch, that thrilling event. I also walk down Memory Lane to the Challenger (1986) and the moon landing (1969). Further in the column, I discuss protests, riots, China, Russia, etc.

When I finished my column yesterday, I saw that Christo, the artist (one name), had died. I thought I would jot a little note here in the Corner.

I met him once, and, at the same time, his wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude (also one name). I was with David Pryce-Jones — and when you are with P-J, you meet the most interesting people, even when you don’t intend to.

We had gone to see a friend of his — darned interesting on his own. As we were arriving, Christo and Jeanne-Claude were leaving. They were as you would have expected them to be, and wanted them to be: charming, offbeat, and memorable.

They did “installation art,” which included the wrapping of buildings (and bridges and islands). He was Bulgarian — born Christo Vladimirov Javacheff — and she was French — born Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon. Do you know they were born on the same day? Yes: June 13, 1935. They were married in 1959. Jeanne-Claude died in 2009, and Christo yesterday.

One of their most famous projects was The Gates, in Central Park. Speaking of walking down Memory Lane: Allow me to quote from an Impromptus of February 2005:

I suppose I should say something about The Gates . . . Most of the people I respect the most have denounced it as a monstrosity and a con. They’re probably right. I defer to my betters on art . . .

But let me tell you about my first sight of The Gates. It was wonderful. I had forgotten it was going up. And I was walking down my side street, on the way to Central Park, to cross over to the East Side. That first glimpse was almost breathtaking: The “gates” looked strange and beautiful against those bare trees, with the morning sun glinting off those orange materials. The project was exotic, playful, delightful.

But that was the first look. You know how people say that the first bite of chocolate cake is the best, and everything else is downhill? Well, I don’t have that experience with chocolate cake — I think all the bites are “cosmic,” as we used to say — but I had a similar experience with The Gates. At first, it was kind of thrilling. But after a minute or so . . . monotonous. Boring. Even slightly annoying.

Perhaps that is my attention span, or eye.

Anyway, I’ve walked through the park every day since the installation went up — I walk through the park pretty much every day — and people seem enchanted by it. They smile, they murmur, they marvel. I can hardly begrudge them their enjoyment, no matter what I think.

This morning, I saw a little old lady tumble out of The Plaza, dressed all in orange, ready for her trip through those orange gates. She had such a gleam in her eye. . . .

I’m glad to have encountered Christo and Jeanne-Claude along the way. (Thank you, P-J.)

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