Dead Christo, master of land art: “He dreamed of the impossible, and made it happen”

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For Italians, the artist who made us walk on the waters, those of Lake Iseo, from Sulzano to Monte Isola will remain forever. It was June 18, 2016 when Christo, an American of Bulgarian origin whose surname was Vladimir Javacheff, cut the ribbon of his installation The Floating Piers, a network of pontoons covered with orange sheets three kilometers long. No one could have imagined that from that day towards the unknown Sulzano one and a half million people would have been in procession with cars, trains, buses and makeshift vehicles that remained bottled and blocked in traffic kilometers and kilometers before. A legendary crowd that today, less than five years but after the coronavirus, looks like a vintage image, a sepia postcard. Neither he nor the curator, the newly deceased Germano Celant, expected such success. Over the course of three months – said Christo as if to justify himself – we will remove everything and leave Lake Iseo as if we had never been here. He kept this promise to such an extent that if one stops today at the Sulzano ferry station there is not a single trace of what it was: the world slipped into the immaterial and films are needed to see what it was. But he knew this.

Was it real art? Vera makes no sense to ask; if art emotion, escapism, a quarter of an hour of unknown life and happiness in a parallel world, this was certainly the case and the packaging of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, his wife, who passed away in 2009, have been since – he was the 1962 – they blocked rue Visconti in Paris with a wall of oil barrels.

Christo’s cover for Reading # 52 of 11 November 2012

After studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sofia and the escape from Prague to escape the regime of the communist bloc, Christo, who died yesterday at 84 years of age in his home in New York for natural causes, through Austria, Switzerland and France starting to work in the wake of the Nouveau Ralisme. But since ’64, when he moved with his wife to the United States, the huge spaces of the American border made him open his eyes to the enterprise of life and find travel companions. The Earth, the Monument, the Grandioso were the artistic adventure territory and his companions were some of the artists who in October 1968 were represented in the exhibition Earth Works organized by Robert Smithson: Michael Heizer, Walter De Maria, Robert Smithson, Dennis Oppenheim and the other protagonists of Land Art.

Outside the galleries, outside the museums, outside the circuit: between 1972 and 1976 Christo built a continuous nylon fence 40 kilometers north of San Francisco: the vertical white contrasts with the ocher of the ground creating a symbolic wall that swells in the wind. Then the packaging begins: he packs the Reichstag, the Pont Neuf, the Fountain of the Spoleto market, he packs Porta Pinciana … and also, in 1970, the monument of Ercole Rosa to Vittorio Emanuele (1896) in Piazza del Duomo in Milan. It didn’t go very well: monarchists and right-minded people arose and the cloth that covered the statue – and created an alienation effect – lasted two days. Christo and his wife then moved beyond the gallery, climbed a long staircase and packed the statue of Leonardo da Vinci and pupils made by Pietro Magni in 1872. It lasted a week without success.

That of packaging a typical expression of postmodernity, the creation of a mask wrap. But in Christo the opposite effect is obtained: its a concealment action. Acting on the territory, and the emphasis on the process – almost engineering – of realization of a work testifies, as the critic Robert Morris explains, the overcoming of the idea that work is an irreversible process that ends with a static object -icon to deliver to history. Thus the eighteenth-century theme of the natural and artificial sublime emerges in Christo’s Land Art as an alternative to beauty in radical opposition to artificiality, aesthetics, the iconic creations of Pop Art and, on the contrary, Minimal Art. Like many other actions Conceptual and performative, even those of Christo found their funding in strong support from patrons and in the sale of projects and models, then also in that of authenticated photographs of the work which reached considerable costs. For the Reading Christo had created, in November 2012, the cover of the number 52 which represented an artificial mastaba covered in orange, a color that had become his hallmark since 2004 when he had made a path of seven thousand arcades, and several kilometers long, in Central Park from New York.

A large mound, not a bourgeois tomb, should watch over his rest.

May 31, 2020 (change June 1, 2020 | 00:24)

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