Until Jeanne-Claude's death in 2009, Jeanne-Claude and Christo were one of contemporary art's most famous couples. Their passion for each other was rivaled only by their devotion to their shared work; the otherwise inseparable pair was known for never traveling together in the same airplane so as not to jeopardise their ability to continue their projects. And so, in honour of the many couples who celebrated St. Valentine's Day this weekend, we look at Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
Both born on June 13th, 1935--she in Morocco, he in Bulgaria--Jeanne-Claude and Christo were not exactly soulmates at first sight: Jeanne-Claude was unimpressed upon their first meeting in 1958, and also quite sure that Christo was gay. But love overcame them both, and Jeanne-Claude ended up leaving her husband of three weeks to be with Christo.
The 'twins' ("but, thank God, two different mothers," Jeanne-Claude would say) had a lot to learn from each other: he taught her about art history, and she goaded him on to use bigger and bigger objects in his art. They quickly became an artistic team and eventually they began to speak, work and live in essentially one voice, resulting in projects such as The Gates in New York City's Central Park and the Wrapped Reichstag in Berlin. While their works until 1994 were officially only credited to Christo because they believed it would be easier for a single artist to gain a footing in the art world, he set the record straight retroactively, and now all creations from 1961 on are attributed to them both.
Jeanne-Claude and Christo were together for 58 years, and some of their projects took around half of that to come to fruition: 32 years went by before they wrapped trees in Switzerland, and 25 years and three failed attempts to gain bureaucratic approval were required to wrap the Reichstag. Over more than a half-century, Christo and Jeanne-Claude realised 22 separate projects but were forced to abandon plans for 37 more; the biggest hurdle has always been the need to find out who owns every single kilometre of land that would be affected by their work and then gain every owner's approval. The application to wrap a 62-kilometre stretch of the Arkansas River in Colorado ran to nearly 4000 pages of studies and reports... all for a piece of art, Christo noted, that doesn't even exist yet. That kind of passion, which continues to burn over years of paperwork and rejection and, when its goal is reached, results in a project that disappears after a few weeks with nothing for the artists but the satisfaction of having created beauty (the corporation they established to fund large-scale projects by selling off the artist's sketches pays Christo an annual salary of $80,000; he earns nothing from the projects themselves), is just the kind of love we should all celebrate.